'Be brave and break the news to mother'

Tragic news was becoming more commonplace in letters from the front - either involving fellow soldiers or even a brother.

Pte H. Huckle, of the 2nd Beds, did not have the heart to tell his mother that he was lying wounded in Netley Hospital, less so that his brother Alfred had been killed. In a letter sent to his sister instead, he wrote: "I was hit in the chest - just missed the heart by an inch. That was a fortnight ago but I was unable to let you know before. Am leaving Netley on Friday - going somewhere to recruit my health.

"With regard to Alfred, for heaven's sake be brave and break the news to mother, for I dare not write to her. He is dead - was killed on October 26th - died in the fighting line, fighting for his King and country. No nobler death can a soldier die. Do try and be brave and comfort poor old mother."

(Pte Alfred Huckle, 3/6130, 2nd Battalion, Beds Regt, was the son of Mr and Mrs W. Huckle of 4 Common Road, Stotfold. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres. He was aged 23.)

Former Midland Railway employee and Luton special reservist Pte A. W. Ireland, 20828, A Section, 10th Field Ambulance, wrote to his previous boss, Mr F. J. Crick, about hair-raising times during his service with the Royal Army Medical Corps - and the deaths of six artillerymen from one shell.

"As I sit writing these few lines we had a piece of German shell come into the room and struck the wall. It hit one of our Luton chaps on the chest but it did not hurt him. You should just have seen the chaps scamper."

Later he wrote: "We have seen some awful sights. We were in two hospitals at Bucy le Long when they were shelled. We had three of our chaps injured there. It was simply awful to see the shells flying around these two hospitals and the wounded being brought in, some with their arms off and some with their legs off.

"There were six artillerymen whiling away their spare time by playing cards when a shell burst by them and killed the whole six of them...I think it was the worst experience I have had since I have been here."

Pte Ireland, who was a drayman with the Midland Railway before becoming a member of the St John Ambulance Association and going to the front soon after the outbreak of war, hoped to get home to see one football match before the season ended. "But I don't expect I shall," he wrote. "I think this job will last longer than people anticipated."

On a rather happier note, another former railwayman, Acting Corporal George Pratt, of the 3rd Rifle Brigade, wrote of having been in some hot places. "But if you were to go along the trenches you would not think there was a war on, as the boys are in the best of spirits and we very often are singing some of the popular songs, with the shells and bullets still flying about."

The writer was a reservist who until the outbreak of war had been employed by the Great Northern Railway Company. He lived in Grange Road, Luton.

[The Luton News, November 26th, 1914]