To My Darling Children
You know how sorry I am not to be with you, but next Christmas will make up for this one and last, and there will never been such a glorious time as we'll have. Mother has something nice for each of you from me on Christmas Day, and I am sending some more things which should reach you by the New Year. It is difficult to find good shops where I am, so I know you won’t mind waiting a little, will you?
I'm writing in such a funny little farm house, where there is a cow and a big mother pig and a lot of little ones, and heaps of chickens. There are three little boys, about your ages, the toughest is Monsieur Paul, and a great friend of mine. They give me cafe au lait and tartine or pain de beurre, which means strong coffee with lots of milk, and bread and butter. And are lots of Chinese soldiers!
We’ve been having very exciting times lately, and lots of fun. It’s all like a great game, especially when we have a real sure enough battle, which we call a “show” or a “strafe” or a push perhaps you’d like to know how the game is played, so I’ll tell you something about it. It’s rather noisy, but I assure you none of you will be frightened because you are dads dear little sons and daughters and “bons soldats”, aren’t you?
We play the game in two sides, we on one and Brother Bosche on the other. Usually, it is part of the game that one side shall not know just when, where or how the other side is going to start or what it is going to do, but often both sides are ready to begin at the same moment. It may be quite quiet for an hour or even several hours, till suddenly somebody in a cap like Dad's-only it has a red band round it and gold in front-shouts out "ZERO'! And off we go.
First the guns. There are all sorts of these and they all shout and scream in different voices. When there is a big "barrage" (that is a bombardment all along a certain strip of ground) they sound very fine and large, and really beautiful. Especially if you are in the right place, the "bald headed row" or the front stalls. Most of the guns, because they are rather distant seem to flutter-flutter-flutter all around the horizon behind you and to right and left, like the beating of tremendous wings they make a background of music for the more forward guns, which you can pick out by their voices. The “heavies" sound just as if a giant with a Boxing-glove on were hitting every second as hard as he can at a huge punching-bag. Others of a different kind slam doors in a most annoying way, and there are still others which make a noise as if somebody were shoveling coals very hard next door. These big ones are the four- and nine-inch guns, sometimes even bigger than that. Four inch means that is the diameter of the shell, the things shoot in the air. Then there are the batteries of 18-inch, which bark and snap just like a snap just like a little puppy-dog yap-yap-yap-yap! "YAP!' -YAP-YAP-YAP-YAP!' And quite close beside you, almost at your feet it seems, the machine-guns chatter-chatter as hard as ever they can go, like a lot of old ladies playing bridge. Altogether, you can imagine, it is quite noisy.
Bye-and-Bye, unless he has expected it and starts playing at once, "Brother Bosche" on the other side wakes up, or stops his afternoon tea, and joins in. Then the noise is quite different, because the sound of your own guns, close to you, and firing away from you is distinct from the sound of the other guns firing at you.
First of all, the Bosche tells you he is up and busy and rather annoyed by throwing up all sorts of beautiful coloured lights, just like a firework show at the Chrystal Palace, only better. They are white and green, and blue and orange and red, and some of them when they get high up in the air they break into a stream or shower of an altogether different colour. Others hang in the air for quite a minute, as fire-balloons or parachutes. These all tell us that somebody over the other side has yelled “S.O.S! " And that brother Bosche has "got his wind up" and wants all his side to hurry up and jump into the game.
Then “Boo-o-o-m!” a long way off in front, followed by” wow-wow-Wow-Wow! WHUMPH!" and an easy-going old “heavy" or “woolly-bear” shell lands somewhere quite close, and throws about three acres of land into the air. After that he really gets busy and throws all sorts of things at us, because he loses his temper. A lot of these things just “push” over like the one I have told you about, and say “C-r-r-ump” or seem to tilt over a carload of coals, but he also sends what are called "high-velocities” Which just arrive without saying "Wow-Wow!" at all, though when they arrive, they roar terrifically hard, and they shift about ten acres of “sunny France “ or “poppy red Flanders” in a smother of smoke and fire and fumes. Meanwhile the smaller shells come popping over merrily, often in salvoes, especially the famous - "Whizz-Bangs!!!"- “Whi-z-z BANG!” And there are comic little things even smaller, which we call 'pip squeaks” because that's the sound they seem to make. Quite absurd and playful.
All this time a lot of us are walking about or running over towards Brother Bosche's side, on different jobs. When the noise is about at its worst many of us feel just like "Hen-pen” and "Duck luck” and the others. Often "Hen-pen" says, "Duck-luck, Duck luck, the skies are falling!" But "Duck-luck”, who is very fine and brave, laughs and asks; "How do you know this Hen Pen”? To which Hen pen replies, “I heard it with my ears, and saw it with my eyes and a bit of it fall on my ta-i-I!” Then duck-luck looks and lo and behold “Hen Pen” was quite right, because the tail of his tunic is gone! But “Duck luck” still laughs and says "Aw well, carry on, kid!” So, they do son.
Quite a lot of us are now close to the Bosche side, and then it's part of the game that the Bosche, Heine, or Fritz or Hans or whatever his name is, shall put both hands in the air and cry "KAMERAB" in a loud voice, all together. They throw watches, and sausages, and iron crosses, and chunks of sauer-kraut at us, and forget to bring their rifles or bayonets, but come straight over to our side where we make them do chores for the “duration”.
The game is always played this way, as we don't know how to pronounce "Kamerad". So, you see it's all lots of fun, isn't it, Kiddies? "Such Larx!"
When the game is over and we are once more busy eating bully beef and biscuits and having a good old “grouch”, some of the nice old fellows with red around their caps come down from the front row of the gallery where they’ve been all the time, and say “thank you” that was quite a good little stunt”. Often they give little bits of coloured ribbon to different person from brigadier- generals to privates, because they happened to like their particular way of playing the game Those who get the ribbons blush very red, and are awfully afraid of "swanking." This isn't really so hard, because as the ribbon is stuck with a crooked pin high up on your manly chest, you never see it yourself and so forget all about it. But everybody else sees it quite plainly.
Quite a lot of fellows are given what we call "Blighties", which means that they go over to England and have a lovely time lying in bed and eating all sorts of luxuries not forbidden by Lord Rhondda.
There are some of us, Dears, who are given a little, plain white cross. They have played the game better than all the rest. These are carried away very gently to a place some call Valhalla and some to the Island Valley of Avilion, "where comes not rain nor snow, nor any wind that blows”. In Valhalla they sit beside Thor and Odin and other heroes, who ask them all about the game as it is played now, while beautiful Valkyrie wait on them with the most exquisite things to eat and drink. At Avilion they find seats placed for them King Arthur’s round table which was always big enough and here they talk with Lancelot of the Lake, Sir Tristram, Sir Balin, Sir Geraint, Sir Gawain, faithful Sir Bedivere and many another knights of sounding deeds; and with Sir Galahad, of the quest and the finding of the Graäl.
So you see, dear kiddies, we don’t mind the weather and the mud and lots of the little annoyances so very much, because the game we play is a fine and beautiful one.
I'll tell you much more about all these things darlings, when I come home, which will be very soon. Hug Mother very hard for me on Christmas morning.
Your loving Dad.