Letter from Arthur Powell

Scope and Content

Arthur begins his letter explaining to his parents that he is writing from a little recreation room in a small French town. His unit, for the time being, has withdrawn from the front line and they are bivouacked roughly 5 km outside of the town. Arthur has been given a pass for the day with the; 'main intention of having a feed'. He compares his surroundings to his home 'Alexandra Rd' and describes it as 'quite English you know'. Arthur tells of his delight in having a proper cup of tea; in a tea pot with a strainer and 'real china cups', just like 'Blighty Tea'. It is a refreshing change from eating off and drinking out of 'dixies'. Arthur and his friend have eaten 'custards' then 'encore custard' washed down with more tea; 'just like Mother makes'. He is proud of himself as he has drunk his tea without sugar in it. To equal his satisfaction of the occasion, Arthur explains their repast only cost them 'Francs Dix Sous' (or 1/2 a shilling and 1/2d each) approximately in today's monetary terms, 6 1/2 p. Arthur sees it as a welcome relief; 'from the horrid realities of war'. The 'chum' whom Arthur has travelled into town with has returned to the base after being wounded for the second time in the Easter offence at Arras. The first time he was injured, was in the 'big push' during the 1916 July campaign on the Western Front. Arthur describes the town as being a 'nice little place' some 30 or 40 miles behind the front Line. The town is surrounded by canteens and recreation rooms for the soldiers, which he suggests that there is a big army school nearby. No doubt, Arthur writes, his parents will have read about the recreation facilities and food issues for the army in the papers. Arthur complains and makes disparaging comments about a columnist in the Paris edition of the Daily Mail, who suggests that the 'Tommy needs not food, but tobacco and thirst quenchers'. He jokes that the columnist is probably related to 'Beach Thomas' who watches the 'lads go over the top' from the distance and safety of an 'observation balloon and writes glorious rot'. Arthur would happily swap places with him for 'he'd soon change his tune'. Arthur then goes on at some length about tobacco; 'that there is no truth' in what the papers say about not needing food, but tobacco instead. There is a plentiful supply of cigarettes which are issued to the soldiers once a week, as well as a box of matches. But the cigarettes are (currently at the time of writing his letter) in short supply and of poor quality, Arthur will not smoke them unless he can enjoy them. He asks for his parents not to send 'cigs' at the moment because he knows that they are expensive. Arthur tells his parents not to trouble themselves with sending cocoa as he can also get this. The weather has been gloriously hot, it is 'sunny France with a vengeance' Arthur writes. He cannot believe how warm it is after the weeks of snow, he says he looks 'like an Italian'. Arthur hopes that his parents are feeling as fit and well; 'it would give me great pleasure to know that you are'. Because of the fine weather, being away from the Front Line, and physical training; his unit are able to throw off the, 'worn, weary and dull' look. Arthur has received a letter from his brother's Scout Master, a Mr Gayter and he will reply to it in a day or so. He has taken a swim, in a river nearby, after Church Parade and thoroughly enjoyed it. Arthur has not yet heard from Norman Hinchcliffe's parents, the young man who was shot through the stomach at the battle for Arras, he plans to wait a little longer before writing again. Arthur concludes that he has no idea where his unit will be stationed next. His division now has a new general, the previous one having been recalled to England so he will; 'worry not, but take everything as it comes'. Arthur sends his usual love and thoughts to them and his brother Norman and asks in a 'p.s' to be remembered to his friends and relatives.

Dated at: France.