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.

The photo referred to in the letter was lost, but a nephew of Rawei's, Peter G., found this photo (from the Imperial War Museum website) which fits the description and dates.

"Troops of the 2nd Canterbury Battalion, New Zealand Division, rest in a shell hole, Battle of Flers-Courcelette, 15 September 1916 Catalogue number: Q 184"