Wednesday, 2 December 2015

A Soldier Writes to the Duke of Bedford

Ampthill Camp [Z1306/1/34/2]

Thursday 2nd December 1915: Lance Corporal G E Peters of 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment wrote to the Duke of Bedford, Commandant of the Ampthill Training Camp known colloquially as the Duke of Bedford’s Regiment, on 28th November as follows: “I hope you will pardon the liberty I am taking in writing these lines to you, but I am acting on the invitation given to us by you when we left the training camp for France. We left Ampthill on July 27th with our commanding officer, Lieutenant Deacon. We remained at the base for a week and then, with several other details attached to the 4th Entrenching Battalion, we were made up of drafts from different regiments. Our work of four hours a day trench digging proved interesting for a week or two, then it came to tree-falling, rivetting, barb-wiring etc. for eight hours daily with a few fatigues thrown in. The boys all worked with a will although there were many difficulties. We were billeted in a wood, twelve men occupying a bell tent. At times we could get little or no water. Although everywhere was sodden with rain in August, and we were about knee-deep in mud, that was not very comfortable considering the billets we had come from, but we remembered your words – “Don’t grumble””(1).

“We afterwards removed to various villages, repairing old French trenches. Of course during these first three months we were a good way from the firing line. Then came the order for 25 of our party to join our own unit. I, with Corporal Ayres, went with them. Since then we have several times been in the trenches. We are in a fairly quiet position but think everything points to there being an active time coming. We all recognise we have a very clever enemy to contend with but that doesn’t disconcert us in the least. We are quite prepared for a smack at Fritz and he will have to be up early in the morning to catch the Ampthill boys asleep”.

“The life gets a bit monotonous at times but we remember we are out to win. We will keep smiling and happy and remember your splendid motto “Don’t grumble”. Thanks to our splendid training we can hold our own with any draft we have seen and we have more than once been complimented on our smartness”(2).

Source: Bedfordshire Times 24th December 1915

(1) Base Camps were notoriously harsh, a short-lived mutiny broke out at the worst one, The Bull Ring at Étaples in August 1916.

(2) Sergeant George Edward Peters, from Baldock [Hertfordshire] was killed in action at Arras on 23rd April 1917, aged 21. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

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