Letter from Arthur Powell

Scope and Content

This letter is long and detailed, giving quite graphic first-hand accounts of the battle of Arras. Arthur's letter begins in sombre and weary tones, he has just recently, come out of the worst fighting he has experienced so far and is 'too exhausted to write much now'. The shelling and machine gun fire 'has been the worst experience' he has 'had by far' in which the British have suffered many causalities. It is to be understood that this battle, which Arthur describes, was part of the 'Arras' campaign and was heavily documented in the British papers. Miraculously Arthur has come through almost unscathed, apart from a small flesh wound below his right eye, unfortunately the soldier in front of him was not quite so lucky and a piece of shrapnel became embedded in his thigh. Very sadly Arthur has to inform his parents that his friend and fighting companion Norman, was killed by a bullet wound through the stomach. Arthur believes that Norman must 'have died instantly'. Arthur explains to his parents that once they have gone 'over the top' they are not to return to, or to go to the aid of a fallen soldier, but must 'push on'. Unfortunately by the time Arthur has returned to his friend Norman, he was 'dead as a door nail'. It has all been a distressing and deeply upsetting experience for Arthur as he now has the unpleasant task of 'writing to his people to inform them'. Arthur's unit is now however, 'well behind' and out of the enemy shelling. He is expecting to take a train journey north shortly to where a colleague, a 'Len Robson' is stationed, to join with another army corps. The heavy fighting has reduced their numbers considerably and despite the fact, as Arthur explains in his letter, Sir Douglas Haig and the King have written to congratulate them on their success, Arthur's feels these loses acutely; 'Still this does not bring them back' it is 'very hard' Arthur writes. Since the day of the attack which began on Easter Monday, Arthur's unit have been existing on very little food, 'iron rations' he calls them no bread or meat for at least 10 days. Arthur is still waiting for a parcel to come from home; hopefully with food stuffs, he has received a parcel from 'Elsie Harrison'. Arthur paints a vivid picture of a desolate landscape ravaged by the war and through which he is now travelling, the Germans have 'destroyed absolutely everything'. All villages have been laid to waste by explosives and fires, even as far as blowing up cellars in houses which have been burnt to the ground, nothing is left to, 'have been of any use to us'. The German trenches and dug-outs which were of a superior build, have been 'wrecked' beyond all use, copious amounts of barbed wire have been used to protect the German 'strong points' along the front line. Arthur details the lengths to which the Germans have gone to lay traps for the advancing British line, even as far as putting an explosive in a toilet, which Arthur describes as a 'far more elaborate' construction than those of their own build. One soldier who was foolhardy enough to try and use it, 'left in a hurry without stopping to carve his initial on the seat'. Arthur closes his letter to say he hopes it will not be long before he sees his family again. He reassures them that if they do not hear from him for some time, it will because their unit is on the move again and it is not always possible to have their letters censored. He sends much love and best wishes, finishing with a 'p.s' to say parcel no. 10 has arrived with a letter and eggs. Arthur discusses, briefly, the cost of sending eggs to the price which he pays for them in France and states that there is no great price difference. He is as always very grateful for the ham which has been sent and the bread. Arthur understands that it must be of some sacrifice to his parents to send it, but says 'it is a big sacrifice I am making isn't it?' He asks in an imploring tone for them to continue sending their parcels, and rather more affectionately sends 'more love and kisses'

Dated at: unknown.