Rifle bullets, rain and rheumatism

The horrors of war have been accentuated by the terrible downpour of rain on the Continent, and it is not surprising that some of the soldiers are being affected by rheumatism. Some graphic descriptions of the war have been given in letters sent by Corporal Bird to his wife at 8 Oak Road [now Oakley Road], Leagrave.

In spite of being in the midst of a hail of bullets and shrapnel, he is not wounded but has been invalided to England suffering from rheumatism and ague, the latter a return of his old complaint through previous foreign service. One battle he was in lasted ten day, and he had to fall out at a place the Germans had looted the day before and to stay behind with three more sick men. The place was once an hotel, but the Germans had emptied it. The English soldiers counted as many as 300 empty wine bottles.

Corporal Bird reached Southampton by hospital boat on Sunday, October 18th, and then went to Leeds. He is now at the Royal Infirmary, Halifax, as a convalescent, and hopes in a fortnight's time to get a furlough home. He says:

"It is like being in heaven after the horrors of the war. The bullets were flying around us like rain, and the shrapnel of the Germans is too terrible to describe, one shell killing as many as 25 men at a time.

"We had to advance for three miles under their artillery and rifle fire, and it was pouring with rain all the time. We had to go so far and run in short rushes. We got within 200 yards of the Germans, who happened to be Uhlans, and then we had to stand up to our knees in water for three hours, till it got dark, when we rushed the enemy's positions. We found that the Germans had all retired except those we had killed and wounded.

"We had to lie there on the soaking ground all night. We had to dig trenches all next day in the pouring rain so as to hold the position. We lost a lot killed and wounded in that battle.

"It is a marvel and the hand of God I got through safe. It has put years on us all. It was like waiting for certain death. You could hear the shells coming and did not know where you were going to be blown to pieces. I cannot describe it. It is too terrible.

"We have travelled right through France from one end to the other, fighting on and off all the time. The Germans are like pigs. Every village and town they go through they drive all the people out and then 'pinch' and turn everything upside down. It's terrible to see the poor women and children destitute, with nowhere to go and no food.

The last place I was at was on the Belgian frontier, after a big battle. It is now quite enough to know for the present I am in dear old England once again, where I never expected to be yet awhile."

[The Luton News, October 29th, 1914]