Letter from Arthur Powell

Scope and Content

This letter is split into two dated segments, the 3rd and the 7th. Arthur begins by apologising for not writing to his parents over Christmas, because he had the 'pleasure' of spending it in the trenches. He had hoped that their unit would be out for the New Year, but due to the exceptionally bad weather, the various units only spent a few days at any one time in the trenches; so of course 'the poor old 19th dropped in for it'. Arthur's unit spent New Year's Day in the trenches. Sunday January 7 1917 Arthur has received a letter from his parents dated the 31st of December, he informs them that he is now out of line, and expects to be so for the next 4 to 5 weeks. Fighting conditions in the trenches has been dreadful many of the trenches have collapsed and have been badly flooded with the heavy rain over the last few days. Trench waders which reach up to the thighs are of no use, the soldiers spend much time working like fury to pump out the water, Arthur describes them working like a 'lot of rats', who can, 'live in and out of water or mud'. On arrival to the trench they had found that the shelter had fallen in, rather than stand up all night, their unit did their 2 hour duty on the fire step and for four hours rebuilt the shelter while being fired on by the Germans. During intervals of re-building as it turned dark, they dropped to their stomachs as the gunfire started because they were working 'On the Top'. This carried on till midnight, until unfortunately Arthur discovered he was to go out on dawn patrol in charge of a Lewis Gun. Arthur's patrol consisted of an officer, 2 NCOs, 6 men and another Lewis Gunner besides himself, the unit patrolled in 'No Man's Land' for 2 hours before returning to finish the shelter before breakfast. They were issued with new rations and managed one hours sleep before cleaning the trenches again to prevent water and mud from flooding in again. Because of the appalling conditions all meals have had to be eaten at night and carried over the top, as many of the trenches are impassable, some men have drowned while resting or taking a meal. The meal times are 6pm and breakfast at 5am, it is an 'existence' Arthur says, but, in his buoyant optimism, they are 'still alive and very much smiling'. Arthur's spirit is very much a literal 'sink or swim' attitude, he is able to 'take everything as it comes' and he eagerly looks forward 'to the peace which is coming soon'. Arthur patiently awaits parcel no.5 from his parents, their letter of the 31st only arrived on the 6th January. Arthur gratefully accepts the offering of a fig pudding and says he will find some way to warm it, 'trust me for that'. Arthur concludes his letter with his usual love and warm wishes, adding a 'p.s' to say he is sending this letter in an envelope, as envelopes had once been issued, but due to the misuse had been withdrawn by the army post. He also asks for a good indelible pencil. Arthur wishes to be remembered to all his friends and family.

Dated at: France.