Diaries; 28th – 31st December, 1914.

Monday 28th December: Gorre

Still raining the roads are awful. We went out and brought in a few wounded. We go out in the daytime now. It is much safer than at night as the snipers are always about at night. We got back in the afternoon to our hospital but had just got inside when the Germans dropped two shells right through our hospital killing one and wounding another of our Drivers of our Horse Ambulance. They also wounded an Officer who was resting in our hospital.

Tuesday 29th December: Gorre

We have not had any more shells over today. We buried the chap that was killed yesterday.

We were out collecting wounded in the afternoon and had a few shells burst around us but no one was hit.

Wednesday 30th December: Gorre

It turned hard frost last night again so expected a busy day today but we were very lucky having only 3 stretcher cases to bring back.

Thursday 31st December: Gorre

This is the last day of the Year, it is terrible cold. We are billeted in a school next to the Chateau in Gorre. There are no windows in it and we are lucky to have a blanket, it is terrible cold at nights.

We were out again today and brought in a few wounded. A great lot of sniping is going on today. I had a parcel from the Boys at home which we enjoyed.

Letter; 27th December, 1914.

Sunday 27th December: Gorre

Dear Jim,

I received you welcome papers alright. It is very good of you to send them. It is good to get a read and forget about the War for a while but they keep reminding us by dropping a shell just outside the door of our billets.

We are in the thick of it again not far from La Bassee. The weather here is terrible. One day we are up to the waist in mud and water the next it is hard frost.

We were out all day Xmas Day bringing in the wounded. We brought in about 150 and only about 20 of them were wounded, nearly all the others were frost bitten. Some were crying out with the pain, it is terrible to hear them.

We carry the Stretcher on our shoulders here and have done all through the War. It is the only way we can carry it for we have sometimes to carry them 2 or 3 miles. Here we only have to carry them about a mile.

The roads are waist deep in water and mud. If we did not keep moving about our feet would be the same as the troops in the trenches. The difference is they have to stand in it and we have to walk about in it. When we get back to our billets we sometimes get ourselves dried through, sometimes we don’t.

We have started to go out through the day now as it is much safer as the snipers get through our lines in the dark and lie behind our trenches and have a pop at everybody coming up the roads to the trenches. In the day time, they can’t do that as they would be seen. We can be seen where we are going and what we are doing at night. We generally fall into the big shell holes.

Of course, there is more shells come over in the daytime, but as the enemy can’t get there big guns up here owing to the soft ground we have not been getting many shells over here.

In fact, the enemy is very quiet just now.

We were out till 10pm on Xmas Eve but it is a rotten job in the dark. I wish it was all over.

I am writing this in a hurry before I go out. We had 8 of our Ambulance sent to the base yesterday. They could not move. This weather is knocking us all up, but I am just going to stick through though sometimes I feel rotten.

We have been in it from the start and I mean to see it through till the end unless I go under.

You never know your luck but hope for the best. Some days we give up hope, the next we forget all about it. The Terriers are sticking it well though they say they never thought it was like this.

I see by the papers the Germans have been having a go at England. Well, the people of England will have an idea what it is like here for they seem to have got what we have been getting day and night since we came out here. It knocks hell out of your nerves but I don’t think I have any left.

I have not heard any word of Jack Donald, but if he is still alive he is lucky for some of the regiments in our Brigade have not 10 men in them that came out in August with us, though I hope he is still in the land of the living. Of course, a lot are prisoners. I have not seen anything of Jack White either though we have picked up all kinds of regiments black and white on the field.

I hope you will be able to make this letter out as I am using my leg for a writing desk. I have to thank you, Jim, for what you have done for me and mine but hope to thank you personally when I come home. I won’t forget about it. Accept my best thanks at present.

I hope you had a Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year. Tom was telling me in his last letter you were not keeping well. I hope you are keeping better. I was sorry to hear about Martin Williams and John Kirkpatrick and also Morrow. I received Bob Wyse’s letter and I have written telling him how we have enjoyed ourselves. We had a night out. There were 12 in the billet I was in and we had a good night. Bob Wyse will tell you all about it. I hope Tom received my small parcel and letter. I have not heard from him. I am collecting some good souvenirs here and will send them off when I get the chance to get to a big town.

We have very little time for anything just now but dodging the shells and work. Well, I will now have to finish as I have to go out at 11 and it is about 3 minutes to. So, goodbye for the present. I hope a sniper does not get me.

Jim McFarlane

Letter; 26th December, 1914.

Saturday 26th December: Gorre

Dear Bob,

I received your welcome letter and P. P. alright; I don’t know how to thank you for your kindness, but thank you all from the bottom of my heart, and hope you all had a Merry Xmas and will have a Happy New Year.

I started to write to you on Sunday but had only written a few lines when we received the order to get ready to move off back to the Firing Line but I will start from the first day I received your letter.

We were billeted in a village Outterstene about 9 miles from Hazebruck and about 20 miles south of Ypres. It is a small village in France. We had billeted there for a month and all the First Division had made up to full strength. We had two terriers attached to our Ambulance and a Terrier Regiment attached to our Brigade-the 6th Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

Well, when we were in Outterstene we had a chance of getting a pint of French Beer-not near as good as the beer at home but a change from the Firing Line where you cannot get any. I received your letter on Saturday afternoon the 19th and there were another 11 men in the room along with me. We decided to spend our Christmas that night, and a good job we did, for we moved off the next night. We had what you would call a “Night-Out” One chap happened to have a cake and some biscuits. Everyone in the room had a good time. We had singing and everyone said it was the best day or rather night we have had since we came out here. They all said it was a most sensible present, but if it had been a day later we could not have spent it. Some of the men were so thankful that they asked for your address as they say they are going to write and thank you. They wish me to tell you that they would like to thank the Kingston Ambulance Boys for the treat they gave them. We had a splendid night and went back to the Firing Line next night like children we were all so happy after our night, though there were some sore heads in the morning.

On the Sunday I was going to write you and had just started when along came the order to fall in at once, so we had to pack up and marched off at 7pm. We marched on till 2am and it started to rain. We had a halt for two hours at a place called Merville then we went on again till 5pm on Monday night when we reached the town of Belhure. We billeted in a barn for the night and all the infantry went right up to the trenches to relieve the Indian troops so we discovered that the 1st Division was to relieve the 8th Division. They are going back for a few weeks rest. Next night we moved closer to the Firing Line to a village called Gorre. It is under shell fire but the Germans are very quiet just now.

After we shifted up to our new billets we went out to collect the wounded about 11pm and oh what a road to carry wounded down. It was three feet deep in water and the road was full of holes, so that some parts of the road were 5 feet deep and some 7 feet deep. Well, we were up and down that road till 5 am for we had a great many wounded as our Brigade, as soon as they were into the Firing Line charged the enemy and captured 5 trenches. So we had plenty of work and it was still raining, so we had a fine night for our first one back in the Firing Line.

To give you an idea what it is really like without a lie, three of the Glosters were drowned in the mud and water in one of their trenches and they were not wounded before they were drowned. The country is terrible flat here, it was dark, nobody could get near them and the mud held them like a bog.

We also had the usual sniping at us for if you go up any road near the Firing Line in the dark, you will be sniped at. These snipers are usually up a tree and fire at the Stretcher Bearers or the cookers that bring the food up to the trenches at night.

Our Terriers are sticking it like heroes. The two in our Ambulance stuck it along with the rest though five of our men had to be carried to the Ambulance with rheumatism.

After wandering through the water the whole night, I went into one of the holes, right over my shoulders with mud and water and the rest laughed. I did not, but I had my own back when another fell in a few moments later.

The next night was just the same but we were finished by midnight and the next night was Xmas Eve. We were finished about 10pm, as we had been bringing in the wounded and sick from 1pm that day.

The weather had taken a change. It had turned to hard frost and we knew the troops in the trenches would catch it as they were up to their waist in water.

Our own feet were about frozen by the time we got back to our billets and next day (Xmas Day) we went out to bring them in as soon as we had our breakfast. A cup of tea, bread and jam and glad to get it, for it was terrible cold. We went off about 11am as we knew there would be a terrible amount of sick with frostbite.

There were about 150 from our Brigade, only 20 of them wounded but we had to carry them all as they could not walk. We carried some on stretchers and some on our back.. Every time was a mile up and down. One good thing, we managed to get across the fields which were a bit dry and were getting quite hard. However try and carry a man on your back for a mile, and once you start you cannot lay him down, as his feet cannot touch the ground. We are only too glad to do our best for them, as some, I am sorry to say will lose their feet or toes.

It was a proper Xmas Day, a very hard frost and a mist hanging over the ground. It dried the ground up a good bit but knocked half the troops out but we knew the Germans had to suffer it too. We finished our Xmas Day carrying wounded and sick from the trenches.

About 6pm when we got back to our billets we all got a Xmas card from the King and Queen and Princess Mary’s gift and a piece of pudding about 2 inches square.

Tonight we are getting a rest, as there are only a few wounded, and they only sent out a few stretcher squads. I was one of the lucky ones left behind so have taken the chance to write and thank you all for your gift.

The weather has changed tonight. It is raining again. This weather will knock half the troops off mess.

I am trying to finish this letter in the dark. I am going to send it home with one of the wounded and he will post it in England so that it won’t be read by the Officer. If I sent it through the Office I would not be allowed to say half of this.

I expect when you read this you will be thinking I must have been drunk when I wrote it as I am an awful blether and my schooling has been neglected. I hope you will be able to make it out, as you know Bob I try and let you know as often as I can how things are going on. I expect I will be carrying them in on Old year’s Night the same as Xmas. We thought we would still be resting but we can’t always be resting. We have had a good rest. I was sorry to hear about Martin Williams, John Kirkpatrick and George Morrow. I hope Williams and Kirkpatrick won’t be long until they are alright again. I am glad the Class is going on alright. I have kept a diary from the day I was called up so you will all have a chance of reading it when I come home, which I hope won’t be long now. No more at present.

Wishing you all a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year.

I Remain,

Jim McFarlane

Diaries; 19th – 25th December, 1914.

Saturday 19th December: Outterstene

Have just heard about the raid on Scarborough. Received Postal Order from the Boys in the Kingston. Along with a few of my chums had a great night.

Sunday 20th December: Outterstene/ Merville

At 5.30pm we received the order to get ready and marched off from here at 7pm. We marched on until 2am till we reached Merville South-East of Outterstene

Monday 21st December: Merville/ Bethune

After one hours sleep we moved on again at 3am but progress was very slow. Rain started to come down and we were hanging about the roads with no place for shelter but we reached a billet after passing through the town of Bethune at 5pm. We stayed here for the night.

Tuesday 22nd December: Festubert

After a bad night’s sleep in our wet clothes, as we did not get our blankets out, we were up and had some tea. Our troops have been having a hard time here. We are not exactly in the firing line yet; we are a good bit back waiting to see what is going on.

Nearly all the Indian troops are here and some heavy fighting has been going on with heavy losses on both sides.

At 4pm we went out to collect wounded, we advanced about 4 miles and were very soon under shell fire. Rain was coming down and the roads were 3 feet deep with mud and water.

We had to wade through it up past our knees. We were being sniped at all the time and falling into holes 6ft deep with water. We were out all night bringing in the wounded, one of the worst nights I have yet experienced. We worked all night till 9am bringing in all kinds of wounded black and white and could not put the stretcher down or the mud would have covered the patient. The Indian Ambulance gave us a hand, they are very good workers.

Three of the Glosters were drowned in a trench though they were not wounded, that is what it is like here.

We got back to a new billet at Chateau Gorre which we have made into a hospital.

Wednesday 23rd December: Gorre

After getting back at 9am we received a tot of rum which did us good and some breakfast.

We are now close to the firing line so won’t have so far to carry the wounded. After 2 hours sleep in the afternoon, we had to go out again at night through the water and mud. It is a hard job carrying wounded under such conditions. This place our Brigade are holding is called Festubert. It is right between Bethune and Le Bassee.

The 1st Division has relieved the Indian troops who are going back for a rest. It is horrible weather horrible roads.

Thursday 24th December: Gorre

We have cleaned all this house out and made it into a hospital. We are under shell fire but this house has not been hit yet. It is called Chateau Gorre.

We were out last night and expect to be out again tonight Xmas Eve. Just our luck, what a Christmas Eve! We went out about 9pm and brought in a few a few wounded. It has turned into a very hard frost and the snipers had their usual shot at us but got back just on the stroke of Christmas.

Friday 25th December: Gorre

The frost that started about 9pm last night held all night and it is freezing hard today. We had to turn out early this morning as the frost has taken a terrible toll on the trenches where the water is 3 to 4 feet deep. We had to work all day to carry men from the trenches with frozen feet. There were only about 20 wounded all the rest were frozen feet. We had to work till it grew dark with a shell now and then dropping near.

We had our Christmas dinner-Biscuits and cheese in an Advanced Dressing Station just behind the trenches. What a Christmas.

After a hard day’s work, we managed to get the last poor devil away just at dark. We got back to the hospital about 7pm and after a small piece of Christmas pudding and a pint of beer we had to go out again at 10pm to bring in another 5 wounded. We received a perfect volley from the Germans this time and had to get under cover for a while till it died down but were sniped at all the road back but got back at 12pm safe and sound. “Not a bad day”

Letter; 10th December, 1914.

Letter Thursday 10th December: Outterstene

Dear Tom,

I have not had much chance to tell you anything about the War in the last letters I sent you as the Officer had to read them. I will tell you as much as I can in this one as I am going to put it inside a small parcel I am going to send you.

In the first place I am very sorry I did not know I was going to come to this place when we left Ypres. If I had known I would have brought all the Souvenirs I had there with me. I didn’t know where we going, I thought we were moving to another part of the firing line but as the Germans got “fed up” trying to take Ypres they sent us back for a rest. The first we have had since we landed in this country.

We cannot carry much with us when we move from place to place the only thing I had left when I landed here were this German mug, a Pocket Lamp and a knife I got off one of the Kaiser’s Guards at Ypres. I am also sending one French cartridge, one English cartridge and one German. I will also send you all the rest of the Countries engaged in this war when I send you some good Souvenirs.

I will also try and send you one of the Dum-Dum bullets the Germans are using. I had one but lost it. I also had a helmet belonging to a German officer but I left it at Ypres as I did not know I would have the chance to send it on to you. I will send on plenty when we go back to the firing line which I think won’t be long now but I may tell you, Tom, I am only sending this small parcel to see if it will really go home, if it does not it won’t be much lost.

There I also some German money, one or two Mark notes- a mark is worth 1/1d, two marks 2/2d and so on but as it is paper money I don’t think it will be handy as a souvenir till I send you some good ones. There is also a German penny and half-penny, not much, but you can give them to anybody you like as souvenirs. I will send you all some good souvenirs as soon as I can. I only want to see if this parcel will reach home.

I wish to tell you Tom that nearly every letter I have sent home to you I sent home by one of the wounded. If I sent it through the ordinary way one of my Officers would have to read it and if I said anything about the war he would burn the letter as it is not allowed.

When I sent you the last letter, I said very little about the War as you would see. I also sent one to Jim Pye. I have just heard that it was burned as Jim asked me to let him know if I needed anything. More as a joke than anything else I said the thing we needed most out here was Keating’s Powder. If Jim has not got my letter it was burned for saying that, so you can see we are not allowed to write much, if we send them through the proper quarter. If there is a way to get a letter home without it being read, I will find it out. Trust a holeborer to find a back way out.

Speaking about Keating’s Powder what I said in a joke is really quite true. We try our best but we cannot keep ourselves clean. We have shifted our shirts every day but we still get them. You would laugh if you saw us sitting with our shirts off searching for them. We often take our shirts off and stand where thousands fall, and Tom I am not joking, but what can we do. If I was to put on a clean shirt today it will be as bad as ever tomorrow, but that is nothing if that was all we would be well off.

I will now try and give you some idea of what is happening here. We left the Aisne on the 16th of October and the French Terriers took over our Trenches. We came right up to St. Omer by train after passing through Paris. All the British Army came up to Belgium where we (The 1st Division of the 1st Army Corps.) joined forces with the 7th Division which had retired from Ostend.

In the first place an Army Corps is composed of 2 Divisions. The 1st Army Corps is composed of the 1st and 2nd Divisions. A Division is composed of 3 Brigades and each Brigade is composed of 4 Regiments and a Field Ambulance.

The 1st Division is composed of the 1st , 2nd and 3rd Brigades and we belong to the 3rd so we are called 3rd Field Ambulance.

The 2nd Division is composed of the 4th , 5th and 6th brigades and so on.

I don’t know if I have made this plain enough but you can work it out for yourself. Well, we of the 1st Division advanced in the direction of Brouges but when we came to Langemark on the 21st October we were not strong enough to drive the Germans back, so we just had to hold our own. We did so till there was word that the Germans were going to try and retake Ypres.

The French relieved us at Langemark on the 25th and we marched to Ypres to defend that town as the Germans were throwing the pick of their army against it. The most of the British troops were entrenched about that town.

It was here I saw for the first time the great naval commander Samson and his armoured car.

Part of our Ambulance took over a training school for boys, which was on the east side of town, (the side nearest the trenches) and made it into a Hospital. The remainder of us formed an Advance Dressing Station 500 yards behind the trenches. We in the Advanced Dressing Station collected the wounded and at night when it was dark the wagons came up and took the wounded from us. They took them to our other hospital where they were taken by Motor Ambulances to the train.

We stuck to our Advanced Dressing Station till our troops had to retire back a little to take up a better position.

All the time the Germans were shelling Ypres and we were 3 miles nearer the Germans than the town. Our other hospital was a half a mile nearer the Germans than the town and yet the German’s big shells were setting all the houses on fire. We even had some people who had stayed in the town all through the war in our hospital wounded and some were living in the cellars under our hospital.

In one house a man, his wife and two children were killed outright. The sister and brother of the wife, who were also in the house, were not touched but the brother was ill and we had to carry him to our hospital and send him off in the Motor Ambulance.

That was some of the sights when the Germans started to shell Ypres but the people had to leave and then the Germans knocked the town to blazes. There was not much of the town left when we passed through it coming back here.

To go back to our Advanced Dressing station we had 3 of our men of the 3rd field Ambulance killed then. That is 5 men we have had killed and 11 wounded since the start of the war. Our ambulance is about 150 strong, 90 Bearers and the remainder for what is called a Tent Section. We, the Bearers go out and collect the wounded and the Tent Section nurse and operate on as many as they can till they taken away clear of the firing.

In this road outside Ypres nearest the Germans, 6 Divisions of British troops had taken up position and all the wounded and food and everything else had to use this road. I can tell you it was a job to get up and down that road in the dark. It was impossible in day time owing to shells dropping, but it was as bad at night with snipers.

6 Divisions would normally mean 18 Field Ambulances but all the other 17 were sent away back clear to Ypres. Our Ambulance was left to do their work because we had a fine big place for keeping the wounded in till the Motor Ambulances could get up to take them to the train. Don’t think I am complaining about doing all the work, it was an honour for us and the 3rd time No.3 Field Ambulance has been mentioned in dispatches. It was hard work while it lasted but it saved other Ambulances from risking a lot more lives.

General French inspected us here on the 1st of December and told us we had made a name for the R.A.M.C. as we had stuck to our hospital through the worst part of the siege of Ypres even when half of the hospital was blown to pieces. In one day alone we had 700 wounded and for the 21 days we were there we had an average of 400 per day. Some work there for hardly 200 men and we went out and collected them, brought them in the wagons to our hospital and dressed them, operated on as many as possible and loaded them into Motor Ambulances. We had about 1 hours sleep in every 24 all the time we were there, so as General French told us we had earned our rest and as there were plenty of ambulances to relieve us we were sent back here.

The worst was over by that time. Our troops had beaten the Kaiser’s best soldiers. We had a great many Prussian Guards wounded in our hospital. We also had the London Scottish in our hospital. Nearly every regiment out here went through our hands but we are getting a good rest now.

We have been in this quiet little village from the 18th of November. We left Ypres on the 17th and marched here. It is about 28 kilometres or 17 1/2 miles south of Ypres. It is about 6 miles into France from the Belgian frontier and about 10 miles from the firing line. We can still hear the big guns.

The King and the Prince of Wales passed through here on the 3rd of December; we lined the roads and gave them a good cheer.

Things are quiet about here just now. We are all waiting for something to turn up. There are very few of the British troops in the firing line just now. They are all lying back here in reserve. They reckon about 90,000 British troops are here. You see we stuck to the firing line until the enemy was spent, then our troops were able to dig good trenches and then handed them over to the French. We lost a great lot of men as we could not get a chance to dig proper trenches earlier but the trenches were like houses before we left, so there is very little killed or wounded now.

We have lost a terrible lot of Officers and the young ones that have come out to take their place are just as brave but have not the experience the ones we lost had.

We have all got the fur coats here. We are like a lot of wild beasts. We all have plenty of clothes, under clothing, boots and everything like that. I also have plenty of tobacco, so have all the boys here. So we have nothing to complain of but the different places we have to sleep in makes us well (lousy) but we won’t be long in getting rid of them when we come home.

Some of our officers have been home on leave since we came to this village but there is not much chance of us getting home for a day or two, until it is all over.

You were saying in your letter the Russians would be the first in Berlin. Don’t be too certain of that tom. We might be there just as quick as them once we get the Germans on the run. If we had more men we would have been there by this time.

I may say I started from the capital of Scotland; Edinburgh went through London going to Aldershot, passed through the capital of France- Paris and we are going through the capital of Belgium then Berlin so I will have a fine tour. However I don’t think the Russians or us either will get to Berlin. I think it will come to a stop just as sudden as it started but we will just have to wait and see.

You were also saying Martin Williams is in Le Havre but unless he is sent up to the firing line I won’t have much chance of seeing him but I am always looking out to see if I can see anyone I know. You can bet I won’t let anybody pass me if I know him. I am sorry I have not seen anything of Jack McDonald or any Boys from the Kingston. I don’t know what Division McDonald is in but if I do come across him I will let you know.

I am glad the class is going well. I wish it every success and will try and get some good souvenirs for the next competition. I should have liked to have seen your turn-out on Flag Day, I bet it was good. I may say we don’t sing Tipperary now, we use the same air but different word, and here it is:

It’s a long way to go to London
It’s a long way to go,
It’s a hard job to land in London
As the German Emperor knows,
Goodbye German Empire,
Farewell Kaiser Bill,
If you don’t know the way to St. Helena,
You jolly soon will.

I think this is a long letter and it will take you some time to read it and make it out. Excuse the bad writing and the very bad spelling for I never was a good scholar but if you can make it out that is the main thing.

I was very sorry to hear about Jim Pye. I hope he is keeping better. I won’t forget him and you all the rest of the boys for what you have all done for me. Accept my best thanks and I wish you all a Merry Christmas and as happy a New Year as you can have under the present circumstances. I hope we will all be back at work before the next one.

You were asking me if I needed anything special, Tom I don’t know how to thank you but there is nothing I need. I have plenty of clothes, boots and tobacco. The only thing I would like is a tin of Cocoa and a little sugar for which I would be very thankful. You see we are all going to get a smoking outfit off Princess Mary for Xmas. If we had half the tobacco or cigs we have now on the retirement from Mons we would have been happy.

The only thing we can complain about here now is the weather. We have had snow and frost here but it is all mud-mud everywhere. Now I don’t know what more I can say but will be able to tell you more about it all when I come home.

I hope you will get this letter and parcel alright.

From your Friend,

Jim

P.S. Unless Tom, you could send some of the “hard stuff” in a flask, as a bottle would break, we would not have a drop for the “Old Year Out and the New Year In”

trenches