Twenty hours a day in the saddle

Private Harold De Frain, of the 12th Lancers, whose home address is 112 Leagrave Road, Luton, has sent home some very interesting letters from the fighting line. He left Norwich in the early days of the war, and since then has been through some stirring experiences. Of the four letters which have been kindly loaned to us, the first is dated September 21st. In this he says:

We hear nothing in this place how the war is going on; all we hear is that we are winning. I know the British losses are very heavy, but the German losses are heavier, because I have seen them myself. This last few days we have had a rest - and nearly time, as we had twenty hours in the saddle for about three weeks, until both men and horses were whacked.

We had a very hot time last Sunday (September 13th). We were in a village, and the Germans shelled it and left not a house standing, killing nearly all the civilians. We had to retired over a bridge, which was what the enemy was waiting for, as they had the range for it and were dropping shells like confetti. We got over with losing only a few men and horses, but it was the warmest time we have had so far.

In the second letter (October 4th) the writer says:

We are getting the best of it, and driving the Germans back. Once we get them on the run it will be all right, and then it will be all plain sailing for Berlin, which is what our fellows are looking forward to. I think the will want a lot of holding in when they get there, after seeing the ruin which has been wrought by the Germans.

It is terrible to see people fleeing from the enemy. We pass them in hundreds on the road, in all sorts of conveyances, going anywhere for safety.

In a later letter (October 12th) the delight of getting letters and papers from home is described. When this letters was written the weather was beginning to get very cold, but that is said to be a bigger drawback to the Germans who, being a retreating force, will not get any rest.

The last letter (October 19th) was written when Pte De Fraine had been in the thick of things. He had been reading his last letter from home under what he modestly calls not very favourable circumstances. What these were he explains by saying: "We are listening to what we usually call the German coal boxes and black Marias [high explosive shells emitting heavy black smoke] as they are searching for one of our naval guns on an armoured train, but so far they have not found it. The shells are bursting only about 500 yards away, and we are dismounted, lying in trenches with fixed bayonets with which we have been dished out.

"In fact we are well armed now, and I have a lance, sword, rifle and bayonet, and also a German automatic revolver that I got off a prisoner. I had a chance to use it the other day. Four of us were out on patrol... It was very misty and not quite light, and they let us get within 25 yards, not knowing whether we were English or Germans. It was just as bad on our side until one of the French interpreters came trotting up and they recognised the red trousers and blue coat.

"They fire at once, killing our officer. We fired as well, but could not hit them, as they were behind cover. But we had our revenge later in the day, getting a patrol of five Germans nicely in an ambush, killing them all and capturing three horses, which came in very useful as as they are what we want most, having a lot of men dismounted. They make a point of hitting our horses first, which is the best mark.

"They are such bad shots with the rifle, if not there would not be many of us left. But they won't face the lance or the bayonet, and that is where we have advantage over them. They are better armed and equipped than us, but will do nothing on their own, only in masses. They are very cowardly lot, which is why we shall win in the long run, but it will be a long time yet before the finish."

[The Luton News, November 5th, 1914]