13 Oct 1915
My dear Father
Some time seems to have passed since I wrote last, except by postcard; but I know I sent a letter to Mother shortly after the offensive on this front started. It has been interesting to read the official and the newspaper reports about the actions that have taken place over a locality that we know so intimately. I am glad to see that the newspapers (with the exception of Northcliffe’s lamentable bunch) have kept level heads and have not indulged in too many emotions. Of course that blot on our national pride, “The Daily Mail”, relapsed into suspicious gloom after two days vainglorious hysteria. Its talk reminds me very exactly of the dismal doubts and forebodings of men who are suffering severely from wounds or shell-shock. I make no doubt that the bulk of its copy is based on hospital talk. Speaking of that reminds me that I must tell you that that most unreliable of all sources was incorrect in stating that Cecil Brown Constable was wounded a fortnight ago. I saw a Serjeant of his battalion yesterday who was with Cecil during the whole of the action. He says that he came through quite untouched and was fit and well at any rate as recently as yesterday morning.
Things have been humming again today and I hope you will have read further gratifying communiqués by the time you receive this; though at present we ourselves know nothing definite and have only had a few early rumours brought down by the wounded. And after all it is singularly little that any soldier in the ranks knows about the course of operations even if he is well: when wounded his knowledge is generally far less and unreliable at that.
We saw a grand sight the other day; one that I have wanted to see ever since I came out – the shooting down of a German aeroplane by our own machines. It is a fairly common occurrence, but time, place and atmosphere rarely combine to give one a chance of seeing it done. The Allemand had come rather far over our lines when suddenly, as he promenaded up and down making observations, two of our biplanes appeared from nowhere and placed themselves right and left of him and between him and his own lines. At the same time, a vicious and speedy monoplane materialised out of thin air and circled up above the Allemand and also between him and his own lines. There were also others watching from a distance that reminded me of a football crowd; prepared to watch and cheer if the home team won, but determined to mob the visitors if the result of the match should be unsatisfactory. Their intervention was not required. The three machines forming the “home team” hustled the Allemand from one to the other, each dosing him with machine gun fire as they swooped past him and keeping station so cleverly that they drove him continually further and further over our lines. He manoeuvred very valiantly and cleverly for over ten minutes and once looked as if he might escape; but the monoplane stood almost on its head, dived like a swooping hawk and barred the possible way of escape with a burst of machine gunfire. A few minutes later one of the biplanes delivered a volley at close quarters and the German suddenly started earthwards as a steep slant and great speed, the three following like dogs after a rabbit, utterly careless how they came down as long as they were first in at the death. It is the most thrilling game you can imagine. A tight finish in a big rugger match is nothing in comparison. Some of our men saw the machine where it fell. It was almost undamaged. The pilot was short in the leg but the observer was unhurt. Except in feelings. They told me that both he and the pilot swore most violently! The pilot of our fast monoplane was blue with cold, but sweating with exertion and excitement: an unusual mixture of conditions!
I received those “Times” broadsheets: I had seen them advertised and I wished to see them before you mentioned your intention of sending them. If you get any further ones I should like to see them also. There is nothing that has so choice a flavour as a familiar passage re-read. Though one of the broadsheets was not familiar: Pericles’ speech to the Athenians. Except for some of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches, I think I have come across nothing to equal it in simplicity and dignity. Sad to think that in very truth what Pericles really said was halting and ungrammatical. But however much studied care Thucydides gave to it in the leisure of his writing hours makes no difference. Composed or impromptu, it is a glorious bit of prose.
Love to all from
Your affectionate son