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


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