Monday, October 10, 2016

Belgium 11/7/17

My Dear Mother,
Your welcome letter of 29th April arrived a day or two ago. We are still out resting and put in our time training and keeping fit. Cricket has been the order of the day for some time now. The men played the officers and N.R.O's twice and licked us both times.
Last night four of us went for a walk with the intention of climbing the highest hill in Belgium which lies two or three miles over to our left. We got there alright just as the sun was setting, about 9 o'clock, and had a glorious view of the line both north & south although it was not quite clear enough to see the channel away to the north. The scene of the first and second battles of Ypres lay to the left, that of the recent push on of our front and right.
While up there we got into conversation with a Scottish Captain who seemed to be interested in N.Z. He turned out of to Cecil Humphries of Christchurch you may have seen letters of his in the papers in the early days of the war. We went home with him to his camp had had a yarn. I had met him once in Wte [Waimate] three or four years ago.
That address of Connie Fowler's reached me alright. I wrote to her and have had a reply. She has a brother, Bruce I suppose, out here with our Divisional Train (A.S.C.) I will try to look him up. Connie is in training for a missionary and hopes to be going out soon. I hope she does not do so for another six months as I should have leave again by then and it would be interesting to meet again.
Sorry to learn from your letter that Dad was bad and trust that his trouble to does not visit him again.
I hope also that Mr McDonald benefited by his holiday and is himself once more.
Our letters are always liable to be opened at the base but hope I have not said too much about that hill in this letter and that it reaches you to find you all in good health.
Love to all.

Belgium 30/6/17

My Dear Dad,
Enclosed are an old pay book and some identification discs that I have been carrying for some time. The tin one I brought from N.Z. and wore until the time we came to France. I am returning them before they are lost. We moved up a bit nearer to the line yesterday but are still a fairly comfortable distance back and are having a fairly quiet time of it.
I am quite well and trust this finds you all in good health.
A N.Z. mail is expected in any time now and everybody is of course looking forward to its arrival.
I saw a chap out of Gordon's Coy yesterday and learned from him that he had got through the last stunt alright.
Love to all.
Your affectionate son,

Belgium 23/6/17

My Dear Dad,
Here I am back with my old Company again and to tell the truth, glad to be settled down once again with a definite job to do. The company in common with other units had a good many casualties in the last bust up, which I was lucky enough to miss, but fortunately the proportion of light wounds was very large.
Mother's letter of the 19th April arrived today and I was glad to learn from it that you were all well and that Mr McDonald was on the mend again. Connie Fowler's address arrived alright. I should like to have had it when in London it was just a week or so too late. However I may be over there again soon. Leave will not take as long to come round now as it used to in the ranks.
We are having a spell just now behind the line a few miles but even here we have a little excitement. We were inspected by General Russell this morning. This afternoon Fritz burnt three of our balloons so we retaliated by burning some of his and downing one of his planes a few hundred yards from our camp. All very spectacular events. Then he keeps throwning long range naval stuff back in a more or less vain endeavor to blow up shell dumps. So that we are not allowed to forget that there is a war on.
Well, I hope this finds you and everyone in good health.
Love to all.
Your affectionate son, Rawei

France, 12/6/17

[This letter is written on paper with Machine Gun Corps letterhead]

My Dear Mother,
As you see I am now back again in France. Rather quieter than we expected to be back, but they seem to think they need us for they took eight of us away from the course we were going through at Grantham and set us straight over.
At present we are at the M.G. Base Depot a very pretty place where by walking a mile or two we can bathe in the sea. Before leaving London I posted some photographs to you. In case you do not recieve them I am posting some more under seprate cover with the same mail as this letter. As you will know the N.Z. Division has been in the last big fight and we are all rather anxious to see the casualty lists.
We arrived here yesterday and as far as we can see there is not much for us to do down here, but they will not keep us here long.
Well Mother I will write you again soon.
Best Love to All.
Your affectionate son,

Belton Park, Grantham, 2nd May 1917

My Dear Bob,
Just a line to let you know that I am over in England. I was sent over here on the 20th April with about a hundred others to sit for commissions. The twelve Machine Gunners were granted this right away, the others had to go to an Officers Training Corps. So that now you find me a 2nd lieutenant in the N.Z.M.G.B. Sent down to Grantham, the M.G. Base for the British Army, to train and be trained in the art of training others.
While in London buying an outfit I found it necessary to draw on you through Messrs Bruce & Lion for another £20. The £25 that the military people allow one is only enough to buy about half of the kit that is required.
I was sorry to learn that you had had a fire and trust you have not been overworked on account of it.
The submarines seem to be sinking a lot of shipping and amongst the others must be getting some mail boats. At any rate we have not had a N.Z. mail for some time now.
We do not know how long we will be left here in Grantham, but hope to be away from France for another six or eight weeks yet. By which time no doubt the present offensive will be reaching its climax. This is a very pretty place, hilly with a good bit of timber scattered about in the form of small woods. The N.Z. Depot along with a good many others is in Belton Park, the property of Lord Brownlow, a place of about six square miles very prettily laid out. The weather for the past fortnight has been perfect and by its warmth is doing a great deal to make up for the lateness of the spring.
Just a fortnight ago we were marching back from Neuve Eglise in Belgium to St. Omer where our Brigade was to have ten days training before marching back to the line and going over the top. I left them the night after they arrived at St. Omer, took the train to Boulogne stopped the night there crossed by boat to Folkstone and arrived in London by train the same afternoon. It snowed most of the way on our march back from the trenches, it took us three days, so that we appreciate the change in the weather over here.
Well Bob I hope this finds you in good health.
Best regards to all
Yours Sincerely,

*New Zealand Machine Gun Battalion

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 war. 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.