Personal accounts of the horrors of Ypres

The horrors of Ypres were revealed in letters from the front...a mad hour of my life, a day I shall never forget, hell on earth. Those were three of the descriptions.

An unnamed private with the 2nd Beds wrote from a hospital bed in Manchester: "We were ordered to advance on a small village, and I can tell you we had a hot time. We lost 100 killed and wounded. As night came on we entrenched ourselves, but were scarcely finished before they attacked us again in superior numbers.

"We waited coolly for the advance and let them get to within 200 yards of us, and we poured a rapid fire into them. We could not miss them, and you should have seen them scatter. Officers came down to the trenches to fix bayonets and charge. It was the mad hour of my life. Hundreds of dead Germans were lying on the field next morning. Out of our battalion that left Southampton 1,170 strong, there were only 300 left to tell the tale."

Pte Kirk, of the 1st Battalion, Beds Regt, wrote: "On November 9th we were in the firing line - hell on earth - when the Germans broke through, We lost a lot of brave fellows, but they lost more. We captured 37 of them and two Maxim guns. They were pleased to be captured. They gave us cigarettes and even their watches.

"Next day our trench was blown up, and three of us were buried. We were got out somehow, and when it was dark we scrambled back through the woods to the hospital. This is the second time I have been buried, and I hope the last.

"I've got a bullet through my hat, one through the handle of my trenching tool, one through the side of my bayonet, one through the leg of my trousers - and they couldn't hit me. Rotten shots!

"I shan't forget going into hospital. It was like going into heaven. Some hot tea, a clean shirt, a bath and, above all, a spring bed with white sheets - and we couldn't hear the 'Jack Johnsons'."

Pte Arthur Garner, of the Herts Territorials, described being forced to leave dugouts in a wood when the Germans shelled the area "unmercifully".

"On the night of November 11th the Herts again took possession of the trenches and were only 200 yards from the German trenches. Snow fell heavily that night, and early the next day the Germans launched their attack, the shells whistling without cessation from early morning until noon.

"The main attack ceased about 2 o'clock, but the wounded lay in the trenches until 6 o'clock before they could be got away. German snipers hidden in trees paid no respect to the Red Cross, and a pastime of the snipers was shooting at burial parties."

The Herts bore their baptism bravely, said the Telegraph, and when Pte Garner was taken wounded from the trenches the men were whistling and singing.

Cpl Harry Tingley, 2nd Life Guards, described "a day I shall never forget".

He wrote: "It was about 1.30 in the morning when the Germans came towards us. They were about 60 yards from us before we could see them. What I did with the gun I got praised up for. The officer is going to try and get the Distinguished Conduct Medal for me.

"It was a sight I shall never forget, and I don't want to see another like it, I can tell you. I didn't leave many alive after I had done with them."

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph, November 28th, 1914]