Saturday, January 31, 2015

Grantham 29th April 1917

My Dear Father,
Here I am settled down at the Machine Gun Base after five days kit leave which I spent getting fitted out in London. While there I drew on Bob through his London agents for £20 this together with £5 I drew when on leave in November last makes £25 in all and I will be glad if you will ascertain from him what expenses were incurred in the transaction and square the matter up. I will mention this in my next letter in case this one goes astray.
For the last two months that I was in Flanders we were up in Belgium territory in the vicinity of Ploegsteert and Neuve Eglise. While at the last place were making big preparations for a push* and it is more than probable that the N.Z. Division will go over the top there before long. From Neuve Eglise we came on a three days march to a little place called Quelmes near St. Omer, where we were to do ten days training to make us fit for the trip over the top. The morning after our arrival at Quelmes three of us were ordered to report at St. Omer prior to entraining for Bouglow and Blighty.
Since coming from the Somme I have been shifted round a good many sectors Amentiers, Lorentic, Fleurbaix, Bois Grenier, Ploegsteert (Plugstreet), Neuve Eglise, and at all of them we had a fairly good time as things go in the line.
Things are going well in France at present and it is to be hoped that this year will see the end of the ware. I for one am full up of the whole business.
Well Goodbye for the present. Best Regards to all.
Your affectionate son, Rawei

*I think he is referring to the Battle of Messines here.

There is a photo of Neuve Eglise here.

Really interesting website about the WWI archaeology of "Plugstreet" here.

The book "With the Machine Gunners in France and Palestine" is available in digitized form here. It describes the movements of the machine gunners and their roles in the various battles, and is quite useful for matching the contents of these letters with the course of the war.]

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Grantham 29th Apl. 17.

My Dear Mother,
Here I am at training camp which until I return to France will be my headquarters. This is the training centre for all the M.G. Corps in the British Army so that you will know there are a good many soldiers about. We are about thirty miles west of Nottingham out in some fairly hilly country and in a place which after the flatness of Flanders strikes us as being very pretty.
This morning we all marched into the church in Grantham to attend an Anzac Memorial Service. About five hundred Australians and New Zealanders were present. The church is a fine old building and has in it a chained bible a relic of the days when bibles were scarce and much sought after.
Gwen will be teaching now I suppose. How does she like it?
The food controllers are making a great many restrictions here as regards the sale of almost anything eatable although as yet they have done nothing the army rations much.
This week I go to a gas school for a course of a few days, while the following week I go to a place a few miles away for a six weeks course of training. After that I will be returned here before going to France again so that I will have at least seven weeks here and possibly twice as long before returning.
I hope the McDonald's trouble is not proving serious. I saw Gordon just before leaving France when he looked well; but I did not see him when he was in London on leave a few days ago.
Trusting this finds you all in good health and spirits
With Best Wishes,
Your affectionate son,

[From Granddad's photo album, with his handwriting. He is in the middle row, on the left.]
[Same photo, cropped and contrast-adjusted]
Douglas Rawei McLean: middle row, on the left.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sunday 22nd April, 1917, Premier Hotel, London

My Dear Dad,
I arrived here from France with a draft of about a hundred and twenty on Friday. On Saturday morning the twelve of us who were going for commissions in the Machine Gun Corps were paraded before Gen. Richardson who told us were all old hands and had been recommended for good work on the field that we were to be granted out Commissions immediately. So now you see me as 2nd Lt. in the N.Z.M.G.C. with seven days leave in which to buy my kit before reporting to the M.G. base at Grantham.
It will be at least a month before I am returned to France very likely it will be two or even three. We consider ourselves lucky in not having to go through the usual six weeks course at an Officers Training Corps. School also in missing the next push which our fellows will be into before many weeks are gone.
My address will now be 2nd Lt. M.G. Corps. N.Z.E.F. France.
Gordon McDonald is over here somewhere on leave just as present but I have not struck him as yet. He will most likely be down at Rochester with his uncle. I am going to take a run down there some day this week.
They allow us £25 for kit allowance but it cost about £50 to get fitted out so that I will probably have to draw in the next day or two. I will do so through Messrs Bruce and Lion Cooper's London Agents with whom Bob made arrangements for me to draw.
I was sorry to hear of Mr McDonald's sickness and trust that he has quite recovered before now.
Best Regards to all
Your affectionate son, Rawei

[First page of letter below, showing letterhead of the hotel. Click on the image to enlarge]

Thursday, March 20, 2014

France, 5th March 1917

My Dear Mother,
Your letter of the 24th December arrived today and I was glad to learn that you had enjoyed your Xmas in Dunedin and only hope had an equally good time when in Wellington for the New Year. But Bob would see to that of course.
We had a fairly good time during Xmas & New Year for the New Year we were in the trenches during Xmas we were stopping at a farm. Do you ever see "Fragments From France" sketches by Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather

[The rest of this letter is lost.]

Friday, January 31, 2014

France, 24th February 1917

My Dear Dad,
Your letters of 12th Nov and 17th Dec arrived a few days ago and I was glad to learn that all was well with you. The papers you send come to hand alright. My photo certainly makes me look thin but the fact that I was wearing a tunic made for a six foot two man has something to do with that. I am far from being thin now.
Enclosed is a photograph which first appeared in the London papers. It was taken on the morning of the 15th* in Switch Trench which the 2nd Brigade had just taken from the Huns. The Rifle Brigade had just gone on to take more trenches in the direction of Flers. We had just dumped our gear in this shell hole and were having something to eat while the officer in charge discovered where he wanted our guns put. There were nine of us there with two guns we had only lost one man getting there but it was at a spot about two hundred yards to the right that four of us got hit next day. The men in the photo are Pvt. Coup (afterwards killed) Cpl. McQueen (a 4th reinforcement now sergeant) and Lt. Hayhurst (our section officer, now Capt. Second in Command of the Coy) the infantry man walking behind went up in the air before he went many yards further. The war correspondent who took the photo was a cool hand, big shells were landing all around him, earlier in the morning he had taken the first photographs of the tanks in action. The sector we are in just at present is very comfortable as far as we are concerned. The trenches and dugouts are dry and as we have a trolley running close by we do not even have to carry our gear in and out of the trenches.
Until a few days ago it was freezing hard here but now a thaw has set in and I suppose we may say that winter is over now and must look forward to a month or two of mud before the weather finally clears up, and then the push.
We have just heard that our NZ mail has been sunk in the Channel, hope it is not true.
Trusting this finds you all in good health and spirits.
Your affectionate son,

*Rawei is referring to the 15th of September. The operation he is talking about is now known as the Battle of Flers-Courcelette.

[Unfortunately the photo enclosed with the original letter is lost.]

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

France, 7th February 1917

My Dear Mother,
I have just returned from a three week course at a M. Gun school and came back yesterday to find your parcels and letters awaiting me. The [illegible] was very welcome although you must not think that we are not well clothed or fed either.
Enclosed is a diary of a days work which gives you some idea of our life when things are quiet.
One of our chaps is a bit of an artist, enclosed is his latest poetical effort "The Greasy Cook". Doubt whether this will pass the censor. I'll write at greater length in another letter.
Love to all, Rawei

[Enclosed note- Diary of a day's work]


As near as I can give it this is a record of yesterday's events. It gives you a fair idea of the routine we carry on in trench warfare. Sometimes things are more exciting- when there is something doing.


Arrived back from a school of instruction yesterday after a three weeks course consequently do not feel very keen when one of the chaps wakes me up at 5 am. However get up, put on fur coat, muffler, sheepskin gloves and climb up the ladder out of the concrete dugout. It's still dark, the ground is still white with snow and it's still freezing hard; but about a pint of hot tea puts a brighter complexion on things so we proceed to business and together with two of the gun team, the gun, 1000 rounds & a clinometer set out to give some of Fritz's tramlines and crossroads and early morning strafe. Out of our trench along a hedge into a trench and out of it we go, through what is left of a farm house, and here we are in another trench. Then there is a matter of aiming marks and degrees of elevation our indirect fire commences or should, but the gun is just about frozen by this time and has to be coaxed before she will go properly. The firing finished we pack up and go home again. By this time it is 6.30 am and I have put in a morning report to our section officer who luckily is bivied close handy. Wake him up report all O.K. then return to wake the cook and help him to prepare breakfast- porridge, bacon, bread, tea- stir the porridge for him and incidentally keep myself warm.
After breakfast we clean out our dugout and by [illegible] two of the six bunks in it make sleeping accommodation for nine. Put down a wooden floor, the cement is altogether too cold to sleep on. Timber for the purpose is very hard to get but we are seldom at a loss for material and...
[censored-half of page cut off] possible but as the ground is as hard as iron it does not give us any immediate prospect of work.
Leek stew and rice custard. Draw the sections rum, issue it. Have some hot cocoa and go to bed about 10.30 after a quiet day.
The place we are in is one of the quietest about the [half a page missing] well out of range of the Minnenwerfers and he has not put a shell within a hundred yards of us since we came here so that we are having just as quiet a time as if we were three or four miles back.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

France 28/1/17

My Dear Gwen,
Just a line to let you know that I am still going. I am at present down at a school on a three week M.G. course, we return to our units in another five days or so. It is some time since I wrote to you, as a matter of fact I have been waiting for some letters to arrive. Since the Somme my letters have been going to England and wandering through the hospitals before reaching me and since coming down here I have of course received no mail as they hold it for me with my Coy.
I trust you got through your exams all right, and are having a good time. There is not much to write about here unless it is the cold which is fairly severe. We are much warmer up in the trenches than we are down here however the climate does not seem to prevent me from putting on weight.
I hope this finds you all in good health.
Love to all, Rawei

[Note]. I've added a page with a photo of Rawei's family, taken around the time he went away to the war. Click on the link on the side bar or go directly by clicking here]