Letters from James Joseph Makin to his family, 1915-1916, Part 10 of 12

Conflict:
First World War, 1914–18
Part of Quest:
Subject:
  • Letters
Status:
Awaiting approval
Accession number:
RCDIG0001425
Difficulty:
3

Page 1 / 12

France 15/7/16 Dearest Mother a Father have only just time for a Lurried note to say I am well I have and in good spirits. heard that there is a mail Just today Your letters of 30/5/16 have just ome and we are all glad to have late news of home. I have not been in the trench since I last wrote. you have not been Iope worrying to much over me lately Got a letter from Les last night. Hhe is over here, but him yet. I shall have not seen probably meet him soon Your affectionate son tim
bout is missing 30 I should very much have liked to have seen him - jirst for a few minutes even and I should be satisfied I hope you are hearing from him alright. The weather has been all that we could wish the last comple of weeks - just a bit cold at night perhaps, but otherwise perfect I have got 3ori letter from Harriy latily. Please tell him I cannot find sime to write to him just now but sive them (gany & Dore) my knd regards. Inearly forgot to bell you that your 2 parcels (24 & 30 May) cane To hand alright, but have not sot the one with the shirp yet. I must thank you very much for them. The Tocks were just in nicetime, and are good fit. 19O ME)
I have not kind to wrise to Knbe Perce or Sert. This time; but soe lash a kro I did not fet the Becord Perce sent, but I got one from Dat $5/100 You must excuse this scribble but you know more haste woorse serawl Oe from or of chinate son from P.S. I. Sot Mr Spences Brthday land Please. gnd her my thanks and regards. JOM
Frunce 20/7/16 Deares Mother & Father I do not think there is a mail out for some time, but I am writing in case an opportunity of posing letters present issel. There seems to be a good-deal of micersamty about the mails lately, and it is only a have confole of weeks ago see the mail was to been closed for one weeks, but this decision has evidently been can cillect. During the last couple of weeks I tame been leading a cort of wanderi travelling from village to village life hs day and finding chelder at night in a barn, shed, emply house- in fact, any place which offers shelter from the elements. But don't think for a moment I have resigned from the army and have taken tto the strack as a port of tromp or The fact so that my mis sundowner! move, Derforming the has beent on the fairly easy stages and billeting journey M at night in sall Townships and villages. The whole thing would be smething like a walking four on a large scale and just as enjoyable, but for the fact that one perforce carnies all him blongings on his tack, and 10X 3014
moves along at the will of the bastal judging your own Commander, instead of Naturally there are time, as it were times when one lags to. llonger on some more stuking landscape "and feast the eye onr some scene of Tranguis peace and prospenty- and there are many such each day- but we are not fourish exactly, and so we must plod on and by our best to divert our thoughts from the weight of the pack. the Lard or the dry feeling cobbles of the wadt our Thirsty Throak Besides the new surroundings we are constantly moving in, the ase other antificial Means Ao cheen ourselves on the march Monthorgans are usually well to the fore and we march to ragime quite as well as to any of the popular dongs. One favorite, which caused quite a sensation in a by town through which we marched, hums Thus. Od soldiers never die Yever die Never dio Old soldiers never die, They comply fade away
Sunday 17 26 I have not, had any chance of posting this letter, so I am finishing it now for tonights maib. I have just come from Brediction in the old village church, and I learn that letters have to be handed in by 10 oclock. We have had several days spett in this place, which by the way, as our last stopping place before reaching our objective- a line o French in the vecinity of the beg frish You can magie with what feeling ae await our entry into the scene of operations, namually we are all iscious to get busy nighs away, and any delay keeps a tension on one neres. I daresay you get just as much information, perhaps more, than we do about things; so shall not lose any onne in discussing the situation. Whalever comes I feel confident and happy. H.w fine thing to feel physically and spirtually fit for anything, and that io juss how I feel tonight The only thing that am worrying
Sfer this verse, which is sug slowly to rather a pleasant time everyone. Dances and then atters a shrill squeal. there are times when we feel very hred, foot weary and depressed; but a shot spell and a decent meal and we are all lively again, and fit for another march. I i ompriving how accustomed one gets to moving from me place to another and of making himself at tome whenever he is billeted. We ask noth g better than soe shaw and a roof to keep the ram off, and we are m lucks way! Another by facfor a judging a billet in its prosenmity c a shop or canteen. As soon as our billess are allotted we fout off our for a teed of packs and start eggs and cap now, or to buis some new bread and tmned fruit. We are not always successful, and under these circumstances we must content ourselves with the sane ration, which, by the may is not exactly fatrening.
County of London War Hospital, Epson, 718126. 1 daresay by the time you receive this note you will have heard that I am in England recovering from the shock caused by one of Fritz's high explosive shells bursting alongside me. Well, I am glad to say that I am getting along all right and feel very thankful I am here whole. You are aware, I suppose, that the Australians have been well in the box onr lately. The casualty lists are sufficient to tell you, this. At first I was at Bois Grenter near Armentieres, but when the bis pushtstarted, we were shifted to the Somme for about Front. We had a lot of marchinga fortnight - from Armen- tieres to Labreche on the Belgian frentier and then to St. Omer where we entrained. We travelled via Calais and Boulogne to Amiens. From ther we marched to the firing line through Albert by stages arriving in time to take part in the heary Fignting around Posteres, which the First Diriston had Just taken. Now it is well known that it is harder to hold a position than to win it, and this is how we came to get rather a rough handling. But 1 must say Fritz never looked like getting it back once we cot into it properly. Now when you read of the Australians or Tomnies taking a village on the Somme front, don't xxx believe it! All they take is the pipse where it used to be. But have you ever tried to realise the scene after such an advance as we have made recently. I know it is an impossible task for for one who has not been there to picture it. Even after being there and coming out into peace and quiet, you can hardly imagine its horrers, its pathos, its glory. It has been my lot to go over the ruins of Ovillers, La Boisselle, Contalnalson and Posieres, and so I can sive 30u
2 you some idea of the havoc of our artillery fire and the thoroughness of the German fortifications.. There is hardly one brick left standing on another; you have no idea of where the streets used to be; the trees are stripped of leaves and branches, splintered and shattered. And yet there were large numbers of Germans ready to emerge unharmed from their underground shelters as soon as the bombardment lifted. Fritz has brought dug-out building to a fine art. I shall describe one of the places I went through at La Boisselle. Trenched had been dug between houses so that there was a veritable network of trenches throughout the Village. The chief warren had about five or six entrances- all from different sections of trench. In case the village was captured there would be still be a chance of escaping from one of the entrances. You descend two flights of stairs to the bottom story about 40 ft. down. Here there are four or five small roons with glass doers, papered walls, cupboards, stoves, electric light, comfortable beds, curtains etc. etc. On the next floor are numeroue other small rooms, some of which are fitted with bunks as on board ship. The rooms are all irregularly laid out so as to increase the difficulties of the attacking bombers, and so facilitate escape. Round about lie the remains of the German officers life (lives?) of luxury, not in the least conspicuous being countless lager beer bottles. In Posicres, whilst on a water carrying stunt, I was driven to take cover, and ran into what is now our battalion headquarters. It is a low structure of reinforced concrete which has defied thousands of shells. Below it, an enormous dug-out shelters dezens of officers from a hurricane of ope22s
of shells. It is of reinforced concrete all through and is over 50 ft. deep. It would probably have been deeper but for striking water. This place is the only thing standing in Posicres., and so affords a good target, but it still stands its ground. I shall never forget my journey from Albert up Sausage Gully to La Boisselle and thence to Contalmaison and Posicres. Along this gully the most fierce and desperate fighting took place on the lst July and succeeding days. In most parts the debris still lies over this shell-pitted stretch, the salvage of a defeated army. Grenades (British and German) salore, rifles rusted and broken, broken bayonets, equipment sufficient to re-equip a brigade, unexpleded shells (known as dudst or backsheesh) and worst of all the rude crosses marking the burial places of those brave lads who started the big pushr. Nearer the line the horror of the unburied dead is unforgettable. The pathes of the scent engraves itself on the kind. Imagine the dead lying along the tracks by the wayside, in trenches, along parapets - some lying, some kneeling, some standing, axx some with rifles clutched tightly facing the enemy to the last. Then come nearer still and hear themoans of the fearfully wounded and the plaintive call for nixant stretcher bearers, see the noble bearers carrying back the shattered bodies of the brave lads still possessing hope of life, and all the time the shrapnelf whistling and the shells bursting. Come right into the trenches and see the worn out lads lying asleep along the bottom of the trenches, heedless of shells until hit; some, perhaps, scooping out a shallow grave for some dead comrade; perhaps you will find one writing on a crude cross with tears almost blinding him. War’. Such scenes as these harden one, make one callous, but what man could remain unmoved when his comrags is struck down beside him in places it is death to stand up. Here the dead are buried beneath the trench)
4- the trench itself. I don't know why I am writing all this, but 1 can’t help it. I feel that more should be known of war's horrors so that the sacrifice of the brave dead may be better appreciated by those of us who are spared. Anyone who has been through such scenes will emerge a more sober person, and, I trust, a better man. In a week or se, perhaps, I shall be able to concentrate my thoughts on England and write of fts beauty, but now I can think of noting but war, war, war, always night and day. I cannot think how long it is since I last wrote to you or where I was at that time. My memory is a bit strained. But I got two or three of your letters Just before I went into the trenches. One telling me of the Stawell sports was about the last. I also got the Record and Varsity Magazine for which I thank you kindly. I have had a couple of letters from Hughie who writes a very as good letter indeed. I am writing to him also this mail, but I am afraid it must be shorter then this. I am glad to hear that you have been down home and that mother is not fretting too much. She will have a new worry now that Les is back with his battalion, but 1 daresay she will be glad. I am hors de combat for a while. I sent a cable to say we were both all right. I hope she sot it for these big easualfty lists will be a bis werry. I regard myself as a very lucky man indeed. Almost the whole of my plateon and company were either killed or wounded before I was buried. I seemed to have a charmed life for many times a shell killed and wounded men on both sides of me and pieces of shell case missed only by a few inches. I was ready for death at any moment but I Was Spared
was spared. I was glad to be of some service in bandaging up wounds and stopping bleeding and I am now sure that my A.M.C. training has iit been waste of time. But I see, I am back into war again so I think 1 must stop. I noticd in one of your letters you want to know if French maidens still possess their traditional charm and beauty. Well, I am afraid I do not know. You see they have no charm for me and I am afraid I have not much of an eye for beduty. I must say that I am not in a pos- ition to judge them for I have not been in the best parts of France. Those I have sean will not bear comparison with the Australian 8f21 (as we know her). I shall give you my opinion of the English maiden when I am more competent to Judge. Remember me to the boys (and girls) Your old pal,

France

15/7/16                                  

Dearest Mother & Father,
I have only just time for a
hurried note to say I am well
and in good spirits. I have
just heard that there is a mail
today.
Your letters of 30/5/16 have
just come, and we are all glad
to have late news of home. I
have not been in the trenches
since I last wrote.
I hope you have not been
worrying too much over me
lately.  Got a letter from Les
last night.  He is over here but I
have not seen him yet.  I shall
probably meet him soon,
Your affectionate son,
Jim

 

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5/
[a]bout is missing Les. I should
very much have liked to have seen
him - just for a few minutes even
and I should be satisfied.
I hope you are hearing from
him alright.  The weather has been
all that one could wish the last
couple of weeks, - just a bit cold
at night perhaps, but otherwise perfect.
I have got 3 or 4 letters from Harry
lately.  Please tell him I cannot
find time to write to him just now,
but give them (Harry & Essie) my kind
regards.  I nearly forgot to tell you
that your 2 parcels (24th & 30th May) came
to hand alright, but have not got the one
with the shirt yet.  I must thank
you very much for them.  The socks
were just in nice time, and are a good
fit.

 

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6/
I have not time to write to Ruby
Perce or Gert. this time, but send
each a kiss.  I did not get
the Record Perce sent, but I got
one from Pat O.K.
You must excuse this scribble
but you know "more haste, worse
scrawl."
Love from
Your affectionate son,
Jim. 

P.S.  I got Mrs Spence's Birthday Card.
Please give her my thanks and
regards.

1DRL474
1/2

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France,

20/7/16                             
Dearest Mother & Father,
I do not think there is a mail out
for some time, but I am writing in case
an opportunity of posting letters presents itself.
There seems to be a good deal of uncertainty
about the mails lately, and it is only a
couple of weeks ago since the mail was to have
been closed for six weeks, but this decision
has evidently been cancelled.
During the last couple of weeks I
have been leading a sort of wandering
life, travelling from village to village
by day and finding shelter at night in
a barn, shed, empty house, - in fact, any
place which offers shelter from the elements.
But don't think for a moment I have
resigned from the army and have taken
to the track as a sort of tramp or
"sundowner."  The fact is that my unit
has been on the move, performing the
journey in fairly easy stages and billeting
at night in small townships and villages.
The whole thing would be something like
a walking tour on a large scale, and just
as enjoyable, but for the fact that one perforce
carries all his belongings on his back, and 

 

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2/

moves along at the will of the battalion
Commander, instead of "judging your own
time," as it were.  Naturally there are
times when one longs to linger on some
more striking landscape and feast the
eye on some scene of tranquil peace
and prosperity - and there are many
such each day, but we are not tourists
exactly, and so we must plod on and
try our best to divert our thoughts
from the weight of the pack, the hard
cobbles of the road, or the dry feeling
in our thirsty throats.  Besides the
new surroundings we are constantly
moving in, we use other artificial
means to cheers ourselves on the march;
mouth organs are usually well to the
fore, and we march to ragtime quite
as well as to any of the popular
songs.  One favorite, which caused quite
a sensation in a big town through
which we marched, runs thus:-
"Old soldiers never die,
Never die, Never die,
Old Soldiers never die
They simply fade away."

 

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 Sunday

Sunday

23/7/16

I have not had any chance of posting
this letter, so I am finishing it now for
tonight's mail.  I have just come from
Benediction in the old village church, and
I learnt that letters have to be handed in
by 10 o'clock.  We have had several days'
spell in this place, which by the way,
is our last stopping place before reaching
our 'objective,' - a line of trench in the 
vicinity of the 'big push'.
You can imagine with what feelings
we await our entry into the scene of operations,
naturally we are all anxious to "get busy"
right away, and any delay keeps a
tension on ones' nerves.  I daresay you
get just as much information, perhaps
more, than we do about things, so
I shall not lose any time on
discussing the situation.  Whatever
comes, I feel confident and happy.
It is a fine thing to feel physically
and spiritually fit for anything, and
that is just how I feel tonight.
The only thing that I am worrying 

 

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3/

After this verse, which is sung slowly
to rather a pleasant tune everyone pauses
and then utters a shrill squeal.
There are times when we feel very
tired, foot-weary and depressed, but
a short spell and a decent meal,
and we are all lively again and
fit for another march.
It is surprising how accustomed
one gets to moving from one place to
another and of making himself at
home wherever he is billeted.  We
ask nothing better than some straw
and a roof to keep the rain off, and
we are "in luck's way."  Another big factor
in judging a billet is its proximity
to a shop or canteen.  As soon as
our billets are allotted we put off our
packs and start off for a feed of
eggs and "Café noir," or to buy some
new bread and tinned fruit.  We are
not always successful, and under these
circumstances we must content ourselves
with the issue ration, which, by the way,
is not exactly fattening.

 

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County of London War Hospital,

Epsom, 7/8/16.    

                                  
I daresay by the time you receive this note you
will have heard that I am in England recovering from the
shock caused by one of Fritz's  high explosive shells bursting
alongside me. Well, I am glad to say that I am getting along
all right and feel very thankful I am here whole.  You are
aware, I suppose, that the Australians have been well in the
"box on" lately.  The casualty lists are sufficient to tell
you this. At first I was at Bois Grenier near Armentieres,
but when the "big push" started, we were shifted to the Somme
front. We had a lot of marching for about a fortnight - from Armen-
tieres to Labreche on the Belgian frontier and then to St.
Omer where we entrained. We travelled via Calais and Boulogne
to Amiens. From ther we marched to the firing line through
Albert by stages arriving in time to take part in the heavy
fighting around Posieres, which the First Division had just
taken. Now it is well known that it is harder to hold a
position than to win it, and this is how we came to get
rather a rough handling. But I must say Fritz never looked
like getting it back once we got into it properly.
Now when you read of the Australians or Tommies
taking a village on the Somme front, don't you believe it!
All they take is the place where it used to be.  But have
you ever tried to realise the scene after such an advance
as we have made recently. I know it is an impossible task
for for one who has not been there to picture it. Even after
being there and coming out into peace and quiet, you can
hardly imagine its horrors, its pathos, its glory.

It has been my lot to go over the ruins of Ovillers,

La Boisselle, Contalmaison and Posieres, and so I can give

you/
 

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-2-
you some idea of the havoc of our artillery fire and the
thoroughness of the German fortifications. There is hardly
one brick left standing on another; you have no idea of
where the streets used to be; the trees are stripped of
leaves and branches, splintered and shattered.  And yet
there were large numbers of Germans ready to emerge unharmed
from their underground shelters as soon as the bombardment
lifted.  Fritz has brought "dug-out" building to a fine art.
I shall describe one of the places I went through at La
Boisselle.
Trenches had been dug between houses so that
there was a veritable network of trenches throughout the
village.  The chief warren had about five or six entrances -
all from different sections of trench. In case the village
was captured there would be still a chance of escaping
from one of the entrances. You descend two flights of
stairs to the bottom story about 40 ft. down. Here there are
four or five small rooms with glass doors, papered walls,
cupboards, stoves, electric light, comfortable beds. curtains
etc. etc.
On the next floor are numerouc other small rooms,
some of which are fitted with bunks as on board ship. The
rooms are all irregularly laid out so as to increase the
difficulties of the attacking bombers, and so facilitate
escape. Round about lie the remains of the German officers'
life (lives?) of luxury, not in the least conspicuous
being countless lager beer bottles.
In Posieres, whilst on a water carrying stunt,
I was driven to take cover, and ran into what is now our
battalion headquarters. It is a low structure of reinforced
concrete which has defied thousands of shells.  Below it, an
enormous dug-out shelters dozens of officers from a hurricane
of shells/

 

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-3-
of shells. It is of reinforced concrete all through and is
over 50 ft. deep. It would probably have been deeper but
for striking water. This place is the only thing standing
in Posieres., and so affords a good target, but it still
stands its ground.
I shall never forget my journey from Albert
up Sausage Gully to La Boisselle and thence to Contalmaison
and Posieres. Along this gully the most fierce and desperate
fighting took place on the 1st July and succeeding days. In
most parts the debris still lies over this shell-pitted
stretch, the salvage of a defeated army.  Grenades (British
and German) galore, rifles rusted and broken, broken bayonets,
equipment sufficient to re-equip a brigade, unexploded shells
(known as "duds" or "backsheesh") and worst of all the rude
crosses marking the burial places of those brave lads who
started the "big push". Nearer the line the horror of the
unburied dead is unforgettable. The pathos of the scene
engraves itself on the mind. Imagine the dead lying along
the tracks by the wayside, in trenches, along parapets -
some lying, some kneeling, some standing, xxx  some with
rifles clutched tightly facing the enemy to the last. Then
come nearer still and hear themoans of the fearfully wounded
and the plaintive call for xxxxxx stretcher bearers, see
the noble bearers carrying back the shattered bodies of the
brave lads still possessing hope of life, and all the time
the shrapnell whistling and the shells bursting. Come
right into the trenches and see the worn out lads lying asleep
along the bottom of the trenches, heedless of shells until hit;
some, perhaps, scooping out a shallow grave for some dead
comrade; perhaps you will find one writing on a crude cross
with tears almost blinding him. War'. Such scenes as these
harden one, make one callous, but what man could remain
unmoved when his comrade is struck down beside him? In places
it is death to stand up.  Here the dead are buried beneath
the trench/

 

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-4-
the trench itself.
I don't know why I am writing all this, but
I can't help it. I feel that more should be known of
war's horrors so that the sacrifice of the brave dead may
be better appreciated by those of us who are spared.
Anyone who has been through such scenes will
emerge a more sober person, and, I trust, a better man. In
a week or so, perhaps, I shall be able to concentrate my
thoughts on England and write of its beauty, but now I can
think of  nothing but war, war, war, always night and day.
I cannot think how long it is since I last
wrote to you or where I was at that time. My memory is
a bit strained. But I got two or three of your letters
just before I went into the trenches. One telling me of
the Stawell sports was about the last. I also got the
Record and 'Varsity Magazine for which I thank you kindly.
I have had a couple of letters from Hughie who writes a
very xx good letter indeed.  I am writing to him also this
mail, but I am afraid it must be shorter then this.
I am glad to hear that you have been down
home and that mother is not fretting too much.  She will
have a new worry now that Les is back with his battalion,
but I daresay she will be glad. I am hors de combat for
a while. I sent a cable to say we were both all right. I
hope she got it for these big casuality lists will be a
big worry.
I regard myself as a very lucky man indeed.
Almost the whole of my platoon and company were either
killed or wounded before I was buried. I seemed to have a
charmed life for many times a shell killed and wounded men
on both sides of me and pieces of shell case missed only by
a few inches. I was ready for death at any moment but I
was spared/

 

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-5-
was spared.  I was glad to be of some service in bandaging
up wounds and stopping bleeding and I am now sure that my
A.M.C. training has not been waste of time.
But I see I am back into war again so I think
I must stop. I notice in one of your letters you want to
know if French maidens still possess their traditional
charm and beauty. Well, I am afraid I do not know. You
see they have no charm for me and I am afraid I have not
much of an eye for beauty. I must say that I am not in a pos-

ition to judge them for I have not been in the best parts
of France. Those I have seen will not bear comparison
with the Australian girl (as we know her). I shall give
you my opinion of the English maiden when I am more competent
to judge.
Remember me to the boys (and girls)
Your old pal, 

 

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