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Robert Ernest Vernede - Novelist/Poet


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June 17, 1916

Also yesterday we had an accident by which one of our best Sergeants lost his life. Poor youth, he was a very brisk, well made, gallant young Sergeant, and I remember thinking several times when I happened to be watching him in days past that it was particularly unpleasant to think of any one so splendidly built being knocked to atoms by some of these devlish machines - as I saw him yesterday. He was telling me a few days ago that he was going to apply for a commission.

Do we know who the young sergeant was?

Marina

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Hi Marina,

Unfortunately I am not near my SDGW at the moment, but it woulld be a Sergeant in the 3rd Battalion, The Rifle Brigade on 16th June 1916.

Andy

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Monday, 20 June, or else Tuesday 21 June

(Really Wednesday, 22 June 1916)

I got two lines started to you yesterday, and do feel as if I were treating you badly, sending meagre scrabs instead of the long letter I thought might come. But the time I expected didn't come either. We're fairly quiet but excessively busy, and this is the fifth night I haven't been to bed till 3.30am to 5am, which is too late for me. Coming in was very boring. We had a gas alarm the moment we were up, but no gas-against which we are taking precautions.

D. is a nice youth, I think, but, of course, being quite fresh to it can't be expected to pull his weight for a few days, and, anyhow, we are short handed again as C. is taking over another job temporarily.

A.B., when he sees a meal approaching, dashes out to look at something and comes back an hour later, and you mat ne thankful if he hasn't dragged you with him!. But he's very intelligent and pleasant.

My friend Shafto of the Buffs got the M.C. for a very gallant deed. I heard this from H. , whom I met in the dark on a working party last night. A very pleasing lad.

Very few shells so far, but it's been beestje cold - almost freezing at night and a sort of sunless blight by day.

Why............ gets ten days leave I can't tell. I wish I could.

Andy

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June 22, 1916

Got to bed at 3am this morning - on duty 7am to 10am and 11am - noon. Shelled for ten minutes then. On duty again tonight at 7pm - 2am and from 4am - 7am, and probably shan't get to sleep between. So you may imagine I am getting fairly sleepy. This isn't so much grousing as explaining why letters are so muddily small, but you'll forgive it, won't you?.

Out when you get this. Possible change from this part. Mostly quiet except for ten minutes this morning by very heavy shells which rather daze me. Man next to me was shivering and quivering thw whole time. Nobody hurt. We are exceptionally busy. Lat night I was wiring in front for about three hours and had a party of men cutting the long grass with sickles - mostly on their stomachs. Rum scare in the moonlight. I always did detest barbed wire.

I am desperately afraid that this smidge or another equally scribbly smidge will be your birthday letter.

Andy

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June 25, 1916

I'm afraid even three lines really are quite difficult at present, as even if I wrote them (and we have been terribly hustled lately) they aren't always possible to get off. It's a beautiful day today and we are at ........, somewhere quite safe at all events.

Andy

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He does sound in the thick - and so keen to 'chat' to his wife. Imagine cutting the grass lying down - I never thought of such a scenario until I read this.

Marina

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Marina,

Thats one of the reasons I love reading such letters, you never fully appreciate or realise what some of them actually did until such gems come out in their letters.

Such as the foliage with the effects of gas and cutting the long grass on their stomachs with scythe's, who would have really thought about such things.

Andy

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june 26, 1916

The man are all splendidly cheerful at present and it does one good to watch them at play. It's raining again after a fine Sunday. We are at the same safe place, I think for some little time. We are living in great luxury - Strawberries and cream.

Andy

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June 27, 1916

It poured last night and nearly flooded us out. No News.

Andy

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June 28, 1916

I do hope that letters are not going to be stopped, as you suggest. I should think that is only one of the many rumours that get about.

It's just hopelessly wet. We're at the same place. I had a gallop round a big field yesterday and then plyed rounders and then wrestled with A.D. - we each won one round; after which, I am thanful to say, he sprained his thumb, as in the second one he fell heavily upon me and weighs about fourteen stones.

Hopefully I should be back from my trip to pick this up again after this date.

Andy

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june 26, 1916

- Strawberries and cream.

Andy

Last letter - gas and grass - then strawberries and cream - and then they get their trench flooded out.

The contrasts are SURREAL!. It's great to see it all spelled out like that. Maybe it explains the phlegmatic approach so many of them took - deal with the moment you are living in, accept it for what it is.

|Marina

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  • 3 weeks later...

Oh well,

Its my crazy time at work. Just got back from Egypt on Monday and off again next Monday until the 21st July, no rest for the wicked. Thought I had better bring this thread up to date for that period (especially for Marina)

June 30th, 1916

A letter from you today, which shows the posts haven't stopped this side at any rate.

Had quite a pleasant day working party yesterday behind the lines, and played rounders with the men in the evening. Pulled out of bed in middle of night on false alarm, then back again. Today cold but fine. Shall probably go into nearest town after tea and have a hot bath.

Andy

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1st July, 1916

Your letters keep coming and I hope my letters keep going. Good news today. I expect you'll have heard of it. Not in it for several days. Weather beautiful.

Andy

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2nd July, 1916

Its a beautiful day again today, Sunday, and we shift a bit, but our nearest town is still the same as when I was on leave, which, I think, is not giving away military information.

Yesterday I inspected a flying place with C., and if we had got there an hour earlier might have got a ride, which it seems rather absurd not to have had hithero - not that I think that I should take to the things at all.

The mess gets on very well together. A.D. is so merry and cheerful that he is invaluable at most times. He spends his time seeing that his elders ties are straight. He is our only boy, and the great value of boys out here is that they can be so much more mercurial than other people - which the men like, being babes themselves. The whole army is a collection of brave babies.

I suppose for the next few months there are bound to be doings.

This is a hop country and the hops are 15 feet high and rather pleasing. Beautiful sunset last night.

Andy

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3rd July, 1916

Beautiful weather and the news seems good so far.

Andy

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4th July, 1916

Weather fit, self fit. Nothing doing here much. We had a Coy. photograph taken at the last place and I will try and send you a copy.

My servant has gone sick, I am sorry to say.

Andy

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+July 5th, 1916.

Heavy rain yesterday, but good nights rest. Lots of rumours flying about, but nothing substantial. Very quiet for us so far. There is a small Bilien goat in the camp here which wanders into the huts to eat things. Rather a pingly one but not too bad.

I saw a passage the other day which I expect you know and like. It's something about - "Be brave and endure for the Lord will protect you until you have finished the service that he requires of you" - something like that, rather fine and suitable for a soldier.

Andy

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July 6th, 1916.

Another fine day. Had a rotten time last night. Brown and I took up a working party and some fools of gunners started shelling the Boches, who retaliated while the trench was full of our workers. Result very unfortunate, including the wounding of another of our best Sergeants - a horrible wound in the thigh. Brown quite good and cool. Went down with Sergeant and stretcher bearers at the end of it - an awful trek for hours - got him off about 4am and myself to bed about 5am. Lots of men do awfully well on these occasions, but there should not be any such. No time for more. The poor Sergeant was engaged - has been out nearly two years and will surely lose his leg if not his life. He was awfully patient going down.

Andy

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July 7th, 1916

Just a line to say very fit. Nasty muddy weather again. Much sleep last night. We really get our news from the papers, so you hear before we do. Sergeant A. hs been made platoon Sergeant of II platoon, which means I will lose him, I regret to say, but I still have the best N.C.O.'s.

Andy

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July 8th, 1916

I am so sorry to see that Huddart hs been killed. He was such a nice fellow and they seemed so very happy together. I suppose it was in the advance.

It's a beautiful day, and I'm sitting in the remains of a huge cellar of a farm not far from the front lines. We got here yesterday after being shelled for about hal an hour where at the farm. The old farmer's wife and a girl hand spent the time trying to drive their cows into a shed - mostly under shrapnel fire.

I never saw such coolness and stupidity. Of course whenever a shell fell near the cows scattered, and the women, after a shriek, chased them and got a shell on the other side. Meanwhile the British Army crouched under a wall, sensibly enough. Two cows and a calf were hit, and I expected to see both the women laid out, and shouted in vain to them to leave the cows. They simply would not.

We marched up here through a very bullety area; but once arrived, it's rather nice, and I have the best dug-out I've ever had, very nearly shell-proof, I should say. There's a moat and ruins of barns and cellars amid which we live with the shells planking around and a constant rattle of machine guns at night. Two Australian officers came in here an hour ago for a drink - pleasant simple souls from Gallipoli and Egypt.

Spent the morning with Brown counting the contents of a dump. I may send back some more kit sometime, if we move, so don't be suprised if you see it arrive.

Andy

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The Huddart mentioned in the letter of 8th July must be 2nd Lieut. Robert Edward Thorne HUDDART of the 5th attached 2nd Btn Rifle Brigade who is buried in Aveluy Communal Cemetery Extension. The son of the Rev. G.A.W. Huddart and husband of Mary Huddart. He was 31 years old.

Andy

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9th July, 1916.

It's another beautiful day, but no letter fro you. But praps I shall get two tonight - about 1am - which is when I get it here. There is a moat below my dug-out with green frogs in it. I don't think I have any news. I take my platoon out at night to work in gum-boots in a very muddy ditch, much sniped; but we rather like it as we are on our own without the assistance of any R.E.'s, who are always tussome.

This afternoon we had a few shells, after which I took up my N.C.O.'s to see our ditch by daylight; and we crawled about on our stomachs in a hot sun and got quite warm, which is very pleasant. Brown, the two Buxtons, and I are the only mess in this particular ruin, but I have entertained on whiskey and soda-water today P.B., K (adjutant), O.C. A Coy., M., and several others. Sich is life. D. complained of our absence of leave - quite rightly, I think. One in 8-9 months is not really fair. However, the men get less and grouse very little.

Tell my mother I really will try to write soon. It's bad not to, but I get so sleepy with night work and don't want to get really short in case one had to make an extra effort.

Andy

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11th July, 1916.

I got your last night's letter about 4 am this morning after what was an interesting night and for some people a very exciting one. C., with two other officers, led a raiding party into the Boche trenches. The party had been training down below and came up in the moonlight to where we are, as it were, among the ruins of Plashes farm buildings, with blacked faces and labels on their backs - to help recognise one another in the dark - and armed with knob-kerries and axes and any weapon of their fancy, and stood about till the light, or rather the dark, was right for the fray. Cpl___, a great hulking savage child, pressed into my hand three packets of Woodbines as a parting gift (in case he didn't come back) for a friend of his. They were a fine collection of cheery, excited ruffians, picked volunteers, and went off amid many good lucks. Meanwhile I had to get two platoons into a trench we had been hastily digging in case the Boches retaliated with a heavy bombardment, which they did. I sat with them there for about one and a half hours while the ground shook and crash followed crash. The the riaders trooped back, having done very well. They got into the Boche trenches, the Boches fled, and they burgled their dug-out and rushed back with only one or two casualties. Unfortunately one of D Coy. officers and one of our very best stretcher bearers were killed after they'd got back into our trench, by a minenwerfer - very bad luck.

Then we had the raiders back in our dug-out to have drinks, all of them with different stories of what had happened and how many Boches they had killed, and advetures in the wire, and the nature of the Boche trenches. Then the casualties arrived. I fancy I got to bed about 7am; but I was too sleepy to be sure. Slept till 2pm, and am so far having a peaceful day. I don't much approve of these raids - you take too many risks to achieve a doubtful end. Still, it went all right, which is satisfactory.

Tell my mother not too worry. I don't suppose the push is very much worse than anything else really, and so far we are not in it.

Andy

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For some reason the book now goes back one day

10th July, 1916.

Another nice day and I did get two letters from you at about midnight when coming in from digging. No news at all - the general outlook seems good, doesn't it?. I have just lent Frdrk.'s rifle to E. to do some sniping with. He is a very fine shot and staioned at present where sniping is possible. Poor youth, he has two brothers wounded this month, and one may be killed apparently, but he doesn't know.

Must stop at this point.

Andy

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A bumper edition - I really appreciate this, Andy.

How well Robert writes (when he has the time). And how caring he is about his 'brave babies' and cheerful ruffians! AD still a live wire too!

Full of anecdotesa this time - the one about the women and their cows scattering everywhere was a cracker - and the British Army sheltering behind the wall! LOL

I can almost hear the shrieks and squeals and explosions and frantic moo-ing. But I suppose if the animals were their liveliehood, the two ladies were desperate.

I wonder if the Woodbine man came through all right?

The trench raid - Robert doubts the value of them when considering the cost. I've sometimes wondered that myself - what on earth did they 'burgle' out of the German trenches? Could it have been prisoners for questioning? Or was it maps and information like that?

Welcome home!

Marina

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