Canonbury man’s experiences: newspaper story

Islington Daily Gazette and North London Tribune
11th October 1915

Canonbury man’s experiences
~~~~
The loss of his mate
~~~~
An awful baptism

Mr. W.R. Lovell, a church warden at St. Mary’s, Upper Street, Islington, has received the following letters from his son – Trooper R.F. Lovell.
He is an Islington lad. His father lives at 34, Canonbury Square.
Trooper Lovell has been out in Egypt guarding the Canal, and recently was sent to take his share in the fighting in the Dardanelles.
The letters give a graphic account of the great advance by one who took part in it.
He writes:-

When last I wrote I told you I had received infantry equipment and was moving to an unknown destination. We are at present in the reserve trenches.

We had an awful baptism. We were on a hill some way from the firing lines, and we had orders to parade at three o’clock ready to move. We had to cross about two miles of open country to another front just behind the reserve trenches.

No sooner had we started than we were enfiladed from the hills by shrapnel and sniped at from the open. Shrapnel was bursting at every yard we took and our men behaved splendidly.

We came across extended, and everybody was as cool as anything. Regulars who were on the hill said they had never seen an advance like it.

I managed to come through all right, having one or two near shaves, but I am sorry to say I left my mate behind me. I heard officially this morning that he was dead and buried, and it is an awful blow to me.

He was wounded in the head and hand and died from injuries. He was the nicest chap I ever met, unassuming, matey with everybody and I was very attached to him. He was in my half-section and we were never apart.

My sympathy goes out to his parents and fiancée. He was the only son and the last of his line. He so far is the only death in the squadron and the one we could least spare.

We made this hill all right and then rested for awhile. Then we pushed on to the reserve trenches across exposed country. We spent the night till three o’clock here in case of a counter-attack. We then pushed back to our base on the original hill and stayed there the night ‘Till seven o’clock the next evening, when we occupied dug/outs and reserve trenches on the second hill.

I believe things are going on very well here, but the snipers are a rare trouble when moving about.

Only a little while ago they caught a woman with 19 identity discs round her neck.

They have had a lot of trouble with a gun running along a railway, but latest rumour has it that part of the line has been captured. I shall not be sorry when it is over; war is not a nice game, though. I am not sorry in a way they have given us the chance.

Young James has just got dinner ready, so must finish this letter. With love to all.

That casual conclusion about dinners being ready is typical of our soldiers’ letters.

In a second letter he says: –

Since my last letter home I have spent a week in the trenches. We stayed for three or four days on the hill, all well dug into the ground. We used to get strafed fairly often there.

First thing in the morning, at all meal times, and just before dusk, the jolly old Turks used to bombard us with shrapnel and we had a fair number of casualties.

I was broken into trench life by spending 34 hours with another regiment. The next day the regiment moved into safer quarters, and we occupied a line of trenches behind our first line.

We were very comfortable there. We used to cook our own grub, consisting of tea, bacon and tinned goods. Water was very handy there; only had to dig a foot down, and there was a well already made.

The part that gets one down most is having to turn at 3.45 to stand and wait for the Turks to counter-attack – otherwise things were comfy.

Then we shifted to the trenches we now hold. They are not half as good as the first lot, and we have to go a long way for water.

The flies are about our biggest enemies- heaps worse than the Turks. They hold competitions as to who can stop on a piece on a piece of bread and jam the longest before you can take a bite.

It is a good job you can’t see me now, and I’m afraid I can’t have my photo taken. I have not had a wash or a shave or a change of socks for a fortnight now. I’ve got quite a fine beard, and trim it occasionally with a pair of nail-scissors.

I think from what I can gather that we have got them fairly well whacked now and but for occasional attacks things are quiet. The Turk is a very jumpy person and blazes away all night long. He does very little damage except to keep us out of our beds.

I have managed to settle down all right, and, on the whole, manage to keep fairly cheerful, though the loss of my mate has made a big difference to me. He has paid the biggest price of all, but I’ve paid very heavily in losing him.

I don’t think I mentioned  it my last letter, that I had one or two near ones when we came across the open under shrapnel fire I was hit in four places by flying pieces, and escaped with only a couple of bruises on my legs.

One fellow burst only a yard away from me, and by all the laws of things I ought to not be where I am. They are sending one or two overhead now. Just a nice, quiet after-dinner strafe.

Our Major was one of the first wounded, and out Troop Officer took over the squadron. All the officers are splendid.

I had a nice job last night. Six of us were on a sapping fatigue to a new trench being dug- two hours on and two hours’ sleep. Some graft. My enthusiastic love of digging in the garden has come in very handy.

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