The history of Clophill, Bedfordshire, UK
Including historical descriptions, maps and statistical analysis.
Letters back home were collected from the men at field post offices. These were equipped as comprehensively as a village sub-office. The mail was date-stamped with the field postmark and sent to the base post office for its journey home.
At the beginning of the war every letter home was opened and read by a junior officer. It was then opened and read again at the Home Depot to ensure that it contained no classified information about troop movements or casualties.
Eventually men could opt for an "Honour Envelope" which meant the letter would only be read in London, saving the embarrassment of having their deeply personal endearments read by a censor who they knew.
At its peak this incredible operation delivered over 12 million letters a week and one million parcels.
This is information gleaned from the 'Ampthill News' for the period of the war. The date of the issue of the paper containing the letter is shown.
Click the title to expand an item.
THE SPIRIT THAT MUST WIN.
The following extract is from a letter from Corpl. H.L. Cunnington to his brother, a pupil in the Modern School:- "Just a line to wish you many happy returns of your birthday. Have you heard the results of your exam, yet? It seems very funny to think about exams in the trenches here. We came in on Sunday, the 22nd, and expect to remain about a fortnight. We have just received news of the Baltic battle, and it has bucked us all no end. Things also look bright in the Dardenelles, and we are only waiting for Fritz to have another go at us here. He will get a pretty warm reception when he does come, and when the time comes we shall drive them all to Berlin. I know we shall win, Although we will want every man to do it with, and many of us will never see the end of the war, but that doesn't matter much. We are having a pretty good time, and getting shelled every few hours. It is great fun as long as you don't stop one, and you would enjoy it immensely if you were here. I have been rebuilding a sandbag parapet, which blocks one end of my dug-out. A bullet came through last night and grazed my cheek as I was lying in my hammock of wire netting. It woke me up - that was the chief grievance - but it was only a stray bullet, so I finished my sleep in peace. I though it wasn't worth while letting him have another chance tonight, so I got a fatigue party to rebuild the entrance, and it looks A1 now. We have covered the sandbags with cuttings from trees, so that the Boshes won't notice it. What an awful game it is, isn't it?"
Private J.W. Lee, "D" Co., Royal Sussex Regiment, only son of Mr, J. Lee, of the Slade, writes from France to his sister, describing the recent advance. He says:- "None of us will ever forget the road to the battlefield, masses of troops and artillery, ruined country villages, and above all the endless procession of wounded and prisoners. The Scottish Division commenced the advance. They met death splendidly, and appeared to know no fear. We reinforced them and awaited the tremendous counter attacks of the German Guards, who were backed up by a hail of shrapnel, artillery fire, and numerous machine guns. We went straight into the front line, and you must excuse me, when I say, it was like hell. Our regiment suffered dreadfully, and I only escaped by inches. We had nearly 4 days of it, but thank God, we were victorious. One wet night in the trenches, with the shot and shell, the dead and dying comrades, would close the mouths of most of our English agitators for ever."
Sapper T. Hughes, Motor Airline Section, R.E., who is in France, writing to Corpl. Tonstall, formally billeted at Clophill, says, "During the last few days it has been very wet and miserable. Haynes Park was a treat to this. I met Joe here a couple of days after we landed. We were all over the show in a few days. The other day we met the Liverpool Irish, and it was a treat to have a chat with some of my old pals. I have not had the luck to meet my old lot yet."
Sapper J.R. Christian, W.B. Cable Section, in France, also writes to Corpl. Tonstall, R.E. "Fancy me coming out with a Cable Section after all those years in the Wireless. We have enjoyed real camp life for some considerable time, sleeping in rough tents made out of ground sheets and anything else we can get holds of. They Say we are presently going into winter quarters and they have been making rough stables for our horses out of trees and other brushwood. It will be a rustic turn-out when it is finished. They are erecting huts for us, and the sooner they are up the better, for the nights are getting very cold. We have an old pal of yours in this Section, named George Hunter. He was in South Africa with you."
Pte. J.W. Lee, 9th Royal Sussex Regt. Writing to his father at Clophill from France says: "Of course, you heard we were in the last big battle, when the advance was made. I can tell you we had a very hot time, especially for fresh troops. I am glad to say I came through all right, though I had many close shaves. The fact is I had extremely good luck. It was right enough sometimes, provided you keep down your napper under the parapet. I do not think I shall be on the unemployed list for some considerable time unless a miracle happens. The Germans take a lot of shifting, I can tell you. The terrible sights and experiences for battalions you heard of were simply composed of brave heroes, and appear to have no fear of death. We ourselves are quite fresh to the field, but we went straight into the thick of it., and I am pleased to tell you that our regiment has been highly complimented by general French. We know that much more is expected of us in the near future. We are continually on the shift. I shall soon have seen all France and Belgium too."
Pte. James Lee, 9th Royal Sussex Regt. B.E.F. France, wrote to his aunt, Mrs. S. Darnell, that he has so far spent a very decent time. "We were entertained to a feed on Christmas Eve, and a capital concert followed. You would smile to see our barn and its decorations. It is quite smart. I should like to take a snapshot of us around our fire. This morning we had read to us a message from our King and Queen, and it sounded most inspiring, and we all appreciated it heartily. Our splendid officer, Major Langdon who came out with us, has been promoted Officer Commanding."
Sapper A.G. Hunt, of the Signal Service, R.E.'s, writes from "Somewhere in Egypt," and describes his experiences of the evacuation of Gallipoli. He says:- "Both Frank and I had some very near goes for our lives. We had to go to earth so many times a day that it was getting very nerve-racking, and we wondered if we should get off with a whole skin. On January 5th the first of our Company left, and each day after (6th, 7th and 8th) a party left as soon as it got dark. Frank left on the 8th and I was still left to work the Signal Office. I remained until 1 a.m. On the morning of the 9th. The night of the final evacuation there were only 6 men in our company. The beach was absolutely packed with men when we arrived there and it was marvellous there were so few casualties. We were stuck there over an hour expecting a shell amongst us all the time. We at last went aboard H.M.S. "Partridge," and started for Mudros, about 1.30 a.m. From a distance I saw the magazine go up and fires started to destroy all that was left. We got to Mudros next morning after a most miserable night. The sea was terribly rough and we all got swamped. After a few days at Lemnos, we sailed for Alexandria and went on to Cairo. We were in camp near the pyramids and Sphinx and of course saw many new and interesting sights. Then we were removed about 100 miles from Cairo to an out-of-the-way place, in the defences of the Suez Canal. There is only a small staff here. Frank is not with us. Only 3 of us of the original H.C.O. are here, the rest are at Port Said. I saw Frank about a fortnight ago, and he wasn't half looking well, got fat in a short time, he had been at Alexandria. He said I was looking well, too, so hope it is true, for I can do with a bit more colour. Fancy it is nearly 12 months ago that I left your place to go into camp. Sergt.-Major Walker died on the Peninsular on Nov. 22nd from heart trouble, I believe. I made a cross and carved his name on to fix over his grave, and I only got it up and made the grave nice and tidy just a few days before we evacuated. Burgess is all right and still batman to major Newell. He is at Port Said. I hope that we shall be home in England before another Christmas comes round."
Sergt. H.L. Cunnington, 8th Batt. East Surreys, has been wounded, presumably in the trench raid last week. The intelligence was sent to Clophill by the rector, who is a chaplain in France. He wrote:- "I am sorry to have to tell you that Humph is wounded. He came in just as I went on duty early this morning. He recognised my voice and called out. He has been hit in the face and right eye, but we hope he will be all right very soon. The eye is all right at present and it is hoped that it will be saved. He is very fit and well in himself, and is not suffering shell shock or anything like that. There is no cause for anxiety, but his "tin hat" undoubtedly saved him."
Sergeant Cunnington has been out nearly 12 months and for the greater part of the time has been in the trenches. Although he has had one or two narrow escapes, he has not been actually hit before. In a letter which reached his home on Monday and was dated "Eve of the Day," he says:- "We have had three days of the most awful bombardment in history, so the time for real action must come very soon. Theses three days have been absolute hell with the lid off, especially for the Boche; our guns have smothered his trenches with huge shells and trench mortars; we have given him periodical doses of gas and filthy smoke, and there have been nightly bombing raids. After every dose of gas or smoke, when he must leave his dug-outs for fear of suffocation, we have rained shrapnel on him. What a difference from those days at Ypres and Hill 60, when the boot was on the other foot! He hasn't replied on anything like the same scale, but we have suffered pretty heavily, as our Company has been 'up' all the time, and I believe our 'heroic remnants' have the honour of leading the attack. At any rate I hope so. I think this war should make another unthinkable, for this isn't war, it is murder pure and simple, and the side that can use most frightfulness will win. If only Kitchener could have lived to see his boys in final triumph - but it was not to be. If everything goes on all right we should finish them off pretty quickly, and be home again, never more to leave the shores of old England. I don't think any of use quite appreciated the old country till we came out here.
Private C.W. Smith writes to his mother:- "You would hardly know me. I am as brown as berry, and have grown a moustache. There are plenty of amusements, and last night we had a cinema at the Y.M.C.A. I would rather be here than at Halton Park, though there is nothing but sand. I am as happy as a sand martin. We are guarding Turkish prisoners, and I would put up with this for the duration of the war. I am keeping a diary, which will be interesting for you to read. Some of the boys are of an opinion that the war will terminate before Christmas. I have seen several of the Bedford Engineers, and one of the Silsoe Lads, as well as several Signal Sections from Haynes Park. The Bedfords are only 2 miles away, But I have not hard a chance as yet to chat to them."
The Rev. Chas. (sic) Matthews, Rector of Clophill, who is again in France, has written as follows:- "My Dear People, It was a great pleasure to me to be able to visit you when I was in England, and I need not tell you when I how grateful I am for the very kind welcome you gave me. I was sorry not to be able to see more of you, but my time was very short and fully occupied. I had wished to write last month, but received marching orders for France again. We are living here in a regular sea of mud. The mud is simply indescribable,and if a horse comes down in it it is very rarely able to get up again, and has to be shot. It is heart-rending to see what the horses and mules have to undergo. The shallowest mud on the tracks is about a foot deep, and the deepest, where shell holes lie hidden, is often four or five feet deep. As for the country round I cannot pretend to describe the desolation and destruction. Whole villages are so completely wiped out that one cannot tell there had been a house there. Yesterday I visited a large village of fifteen streets, and now there is not a single wall standing, not a tree left, and no sign that there ever had been any house there at all. For the rest, we are living in tents, and scarcely ever see a blade of grass. Still, it is the price of victory, and it fills one with deepest thankfulness that this awful war is not being fought in England. I saw Mr. Royston the other day, and was very sorry to hear that Mr. Basil Royston had been killed. I hope the mission is being a great help to you all in Clophill. We shall need a great deal of guidance when the war is over in the great and difficult task of making Church and country ?? to face the tremendous problems which will have to be solved. I trust that those of you who have dear ones at the front are getting good news from them, and that God will in His own good time bring us together again in the peace which can only be got through victory."
Sapper Frank Harding, R.E., who is at Basrah, with the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force, has written to Mrs. Matthews:- "I am always pleased to hear some news from Clophill. You would scarcely believe how our boys talk of the happy times we all spent in your cosy little village, and how they all wish and wish they were back again. Some day,I suppose, we shall have the opportunity, and I expect we have changed so much that you would hardly recognise any of us. They say these Eastern climates make young men into old ones, so I hope we don't stay here too long. I am not tired of being young, yet - not likely. I was sorry to hear of the death of Sergt-Major Burke; he was a jolly decent chap, one of the best. Sergt-Major Davis has been invalid to India, and now Jack Ball is acting Sergt-Major. You would scarcely know the company now. There is a big difference since the Sunday we left Clophill. We all remember that day. There are two very nice Y.M.C.A.'s here, where tea, the favourite drink, is made, and buns sold at an anna a time. The one in the town is a beautiful place situated in the shade of huge palm trees. Church services are held each week, and to keep up the reputation of being a 'good boy', I occasionally go. Last night they had a miniature cinema show, which was quite good. Haynes Park seems to have changed a lot since the old en times. We were lucky not to stay thee, weren't we? I don't think we would mind now, it would seem like being in heaven."
Pte. J. Blackburn, Beds. Regiment, writes:- "I have just come out of Boulogne Hospital, where I have been treated for diphtheria. From an eminence I saw good old England, and I expect that is all I shall see of her until this wicked war is over, unless I am fortunate to go on leave. You must excuse this short epistle as the shells are falling thick around us. I will write again soon, but in the meantime send me all the Clophill news you can. Kindly remember me to all the boys."
Pte. William Garner, Royal West Kent Regt., France, writing to our correspondent, says:- "No doubt you have heard I am at the base, but expect to be moving up shortly, having been here five weeks. I am feeling fairly well after undergoing dental treatment. Perhaps you won't believe me, but I would sooner be frying fish and chips than be lying here under canvas. I somehow think it would be warmer. But never mind, it is all for a good cause. I do not get out in the town much. I went out the other day, but could not purchase anything, as I could not make them understand what I wanted. When I asked for a razor they showed me a pipe and about a dozen different things, quite a concert, I can tell you. I almost fancied I was on the old school platform again. There are ten of us in our tent, so we get a bit lively at times. We do not get any pig singing competitions out here. Remember me to all old friends at Clophill and neighbourhood. I hope I shall be spared to see you all again. I get the good old 'Beds. Times' every week."
Pte. John Blackburn, of the Bedford Regiment, eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. J. Blackburn, formerly of Church Cottage, has written home from the trenches. He says: "We are still quite contented though, of course, we should appreciate a little recreation. The weather here has been intensely severe, freezing every day for more than a month. We have to carry our food about with us now, owing to the number of rats. There are millions of them, and they are a perfect nuisance. Two of my mates have been conveyed to hospital, the rats having, in their hunger, gnawed their ears and hands."
Private Harris has written to his wife, saying he would like a parcel each week, but nothing expensive. "Send some big arrowroot biscuits and one of your home-made cakes, and don't forget some tobacco and fags. I should also like some lard or dripping in a tin box. You know I should not ask for these things if I did not really want them. Be sure and not worry my dear, about me, as I am allright, and very lucky to be here. The last battle I was in was simply dreadful. I was with George White, and other Canadians up to the time that I was captured, but I lost sight of them all. During this beautiful weather that we are having I often think of the pleasant walks we had together at Clophill with the kiddies. I hope the war will soon be over. Everybody here has had enough of it. Each day we go out to work from 6 till 1, and have the rest of the day to ourselves, so we do not hurt much. Tell old Dad and my brothers and sisters I send them my best love, ans ask them to assist you all they can. I sincerely hope that you have not neglected my garden, but I know perfectly well you have enough to do to feed and clothe the kiddies, Cheer up my darling and hope for the best and kiss all the kiddies for me."
Private Jesse Titmas, R.A.M.C., eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. F.W. Titmas, who has been in France since the beginning of the war, writes to our correspondent:- "I suppose you are busy now digging potatoes. We're having pouring rain, but never mind, the weather will be better soon, and thank God we can say "All's well." I came across Rev. C.L. Matthews the other day, and had a long chat with him. He wished to be remembered to the parishioners of Clophill. The wounded are most complimentary in their remarks about him, and everybody appears to like him. The other day, I was going to see my brother Sam. Our train stopped within five miles of him overnight, but when I woke in the morning I found I was miles away. Well, what is your opinion about the war? Do you think we shall win? All the boys out here are confident of victory, and there opinion is that it is not far distant. I heard rather an amazing piece the other day from an Australian Sergeant. His company had just accomplished an excellent piece of business when his officer came up and says "Come on boys, let's go back on the battlefield and kill a few more Fritz's, and understand we spare none, wounded or not." Immediately on their return they came across a helpless Fritz in a shell hole weakly murmuring "Kamerad." The officer and sergeant bandaged the poor fellow up and gave him a drop of brandy. That's a specimen of the chivalry shown by our lads in France. Well to change the subject, how are the crops looking? They are excellent out here, but they will have the greatest difficulty to harvest them owing to the shortage of labour, but then, the French are exceptionally hard working."
Pte. Arthur Richardson, Bedfordshire Regiment, a prisoner in Germany, at Limburg writing on August 15th to his grandmother, says:- "Very many thanks for your letter dated 26th June. As you may guess all letters are heartily welcome here. They help to cheer us up, and seem to bring friends closer. I should like to write to you oftener, but my correspondence is very limited, and it is really a difficult matter to write at all. I expect there have been a good many changes in the village since I left good old Clophill. It has been a very funny summer with me, the weather, too, has been so changeable. Sometimes hot then cold, and often intermingled with heavy storms. It is really not at all like August now. I am quite well at present. Give my very best respects to Private Gibson, Sam and Sunny, and also to Fred and Alice, and also remember me to Cecil Smith."
Pte. Cyril Smith, Essex Regiment, writes from Palestine:- "It seems such a long time since I heard from you. Our mails are few and far between, though I suppose we must not grumble. Parcels are things of the past, but I should be quite satisfied with letters, if they only came regularly. Will you send some paper and envelopes, as it is not possible to buy any up here far from canteens, etc. We can buy plenty of brown bread, tobacco, oranges, almonds, and eggs. Fancy me spending my Christmas in the land where Christmas was first kept.. I don't suppose we shall know it is Christmas, as things will go on as usual. I hope you will have a good time. Don't I wish I could taste your Christmas dinner? I hope the war will finish before another Christmas, and that I shall be home again."
In a later letter posted Dec 28th, he says:- "I received your parcel, No. 19, posted on September 19th. Transport is the cause of the delay. The roads and tracks are in a bad condition. We are experiencing the same conditions as the fellows in France. It rains most days. I was in the advance party all the way from Gaza to here, and have been with the battalion all the time. Did you read what Sir Archibald Murray said about the division in the first Gaza battle? We are always in front and Johnny is beaten. Whenever we make an attack he retreats without often putting up a fight. The sooner he packs up the better. One of the places we stopped at is supposed to be the burial place of St. George, near there St. Peter raised Dorcas to life. What kind of Christmas did you have? We are on Outpost in an orange grove. Three of us were in a "bivy" tied between two orange trees. It rained all day. The menu was: Breakfast, 1 rasher of bacon; dinner, bully and biscuits; tea, jam. I wonder what you were having for dinner. We had no Christmas puddings. I suppose the French boys had them!"
Pte. Ralph Rainbow, Manchester Regt. Prisoner of war in Germany, and eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Rainbow, of Beadlow Cottage, writes: "I am in the best of health and have nothing whatever to grumble about. It really seems to me like peace time. I am sincerely anxious to receive a letter from you. When you can, kindly send me a good big parcel containing soap, tobacco, and some cake. I am seriously in need of the first mentioned article. Now, mother, be sure and not to worry about me as I am quite all right. My mates, who were taken prisoner with me on that memorable spring morning, wish to be remembered to you. Wee are having lovely weather here,But I still wish this war was over; but we must keep on smiling. I have sent you two postcards since I have been a prisoner, but have heard nothing from you - Your ever loving son, Ralph."