"A letter from Charlie.."

No. ????,

An unknown soldier serving on the Western Front writes about 

the first month of World War 1

The Bednall Archive

Page 1 Page 2


4. 9. 14

Dear Papa,

Please thank mother, Eva & yourself for all the letters you've sent. The first week we couldn't get any as we were fighting all the time but since them things come in regularly. We've done very well indeed as we've had 3 to 6 times our number against us.  The losses have been very great but we've been lucky. Only 2 -11th killed so far as we know but 100 missing, three may have been captured but I hope are with the column.   We have one officer missing his horse was shot under him but he was seen last climbing a wall into a house.   Except for the second week we've been very comfortable, billeting in houses etc. We've had 1 or 2 very exciting moments but are all absolutely certain that our men are able to beat 3 times our number of Germans with the greatest ease.  They won't face us at all but get behind there guns but shell us out.  Their guns are very good & heavier than our R.H.A.  We've only had one scrap with Cav. [cavalry] when we were attacked in billets, one brigade against 6 Cav. regiments & 12 guns. We beat them off with loss & captured 8 of the guns.  The Bays & 5th Sgs [Signals] who are in our Bd[Brigade] lost heavily in horses as theirs were piquetted in the open, whilst ours were under cover............ 

The Writer

The letter [1] is a copy of unknown date written in ink on paper headed "Tachbury Manor, Woodlands, Southampton" [2] with "Telegrams- Calmore, Station- Totton" on the LHS. It is dated 4. 9. 14 and begins "My dearest Papa" and after sending his thanks to his mother and father and Eva, describes his experience of the war so far, expressing his confidence that they will be able to beat the Germans with ease. His letter contains clues as to where he was by naming some of the  troops he was with or near, including the R.H.A.; the 5th Signals; and "the Bays" i.e. the 2nd Dragoon Guards. The Bays were part of 1st Cavalry Brigade (Briggs), with the 5th Dragoon Guards and 11th Hussars. [3]  As Charlie mentions the 11th and also refers to "our horses" he was probably a member of a cavalry regiment, possibly  the 11th Hussars (Prince Albert's Own) serving in the 1st Cavalry Brigade commanded by Brigadier-General C. J. Briggs CB. On the 23rd August when the Battle of Mons began they were located close to Audregnies in Belgium. Heavy casualties were inflicted on the enemy but following the withdrawal of the French troops the British  had to withdraw. Our unknown Charlie one of the early of the British Expeditionary Force (The Old Contemptibles).  

Archibald Home's  "Diary of a First World War Cavalry Officer" [3]describes the situation the Bays and the others found themselves in that September:  "Tuesday 1 September 1914. A fighting day - 6.00am we got message that Briggs [1st Cav Bde] heavily attacked at Nery...Story as follows - German 4th Cav. Div. moved up in fog to within 600 yards of village and caught Bays and L Battery outside it, horses stampeded and L Battery most gallantly got into action, they were practically wiped out by shell fire - our advance and that of 10th Inf. Bde [Brigade] caused enemy to quit and we got eight of their guns - took 40 or 50 prisoners. We gave as good as we got that is one thing and got their guns." See also the Queen's Bays War Diary. 

[1] BC/5 Miscellaneous letters and notes1791 to 1958. Bednall Collection, Macclesfield
[2] Census Returns of England & Wales 1911; National Archives RG14 Piece 5928 Schedule 47, Enumeration District 06 Tatchbury Manor House, Netley Marsh, Hampshire.
[3] Home, Archibald; "Diary of a First World War Cavalry Officer" http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=210050
[4] National Archives - WO 95/1109/1

"The Old Contemptibles"

World War 1



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