From Allan Francis Harding, later to become Field Marshal Lord Harding of Petherton, first cousin to Geoffrey and nephew of Sarah Sophia (Sally) Pether (nee Harding)
Letters written either to his first cousin, Geoffrey G Pether Esq, British Civil Prisoner, Englanderlager, Ruhleben, Germany
or his Aunt Sarah (Sally) (nee Harding)
Censored writing if legible is written in italics & is in brackets.
These letters are in the ownership of Mr J Pether, son of Geoffrey Pether. Permission to publish has been granted by both Mr J Pether (son of Geoffrey Pether) and Lord Harding of Petherton (son of Allan Francis Harfding)
Post card - the remainder are letters
You will probably be surprised to hear that I am in hospital with measles. There are several cases at the White City and of course I must needs catch them. I have been here a week now and am allowed up and out. I feel perfectly well and that is the most annoying part of it. I hope you are keeping well and are quite comfortable. I havenít been over to Harlesden for some time now but I had a letter from Auntie a day or so ago saying that Baby was unwell with a cold. I hope she will soon be better. Things here are going on much as usual. There was a Zep over Kent last night and another over Essex (but very loud). I hope you got my last post card which I wrote from South Petherton at Easter. As you see I am still in England and see very little chance of getting out for some time now. I expect to move out of London very soon, probably next week. Iím afraid I canít send you any books while Iím in here but when I get out I will try and remember to do so. I expect to be out in about a week. Well old boy, keep smiling it is only a question of time.
Your affect cousin
Letter Ė written on the back of the letter is ďBatho, St Pauls O.T.C. KilledĒ
You have no doubt heard from Auntie that I have been punctured. I got it in the left leg on the 16th August but am now quite fit again and ready for anything. The wound was very slight indeed, the bullet went straight through and missed the artery and just touched the bone doing it no damage at all. After the first fortnight I was practically all right and had a very good time getting fit again. Now I am expecting to receive orders to rejoin my unit any day.
I can just imagine what you feelings on the subject of internment are. Rather lurid and not quite fit to express in a letter I expect. Still you must cheer up old boy. What a time we shall have when the war is over and we meet in England once more. What a number of wonderful things are going to happen when the war is over, and that still seems fairly distant.
Alexandria is rather an awful place in some respects but it has its decent parts and it is certainly an interesting town. The population is very varied and one meets Arabs, Egyptians, Negroes, Greeks, Armenians, Italians, Jews of every age and class. To say nothing of French and English people. Of course there is a large number of troops here as well.
I had a letter from Auntie yesterday and a post card from Viola. Auntie said you were feeling very restless and would like to be able to join me over here. As I am not allowed to discuss the progress of the war, Iím afraid there is little else that I can tell you.
It has been very hot here but it is fortunately getting a little cooler now. I found the heat very trying at first but soon got more or less acclimatised.
Well I must say goodbye now. Cheer up and donít get down in the mouth because you canít take part in the scrap.
Your affect. Cousin
162ND Bde HQ
My dear Geoff
I have just received your letter dated 19.9.15. It has been rather a long time on the road but better late than never. I was awfully glad to hear from you although Auntie writes to me regularly and keeps me supplied with news of your welfare and doings, it is not like receiving a letter from you direct. My luck has been in just lately. I have been promoted to be a temporary full lieutenant and got a job as brigade machine gun officer. That happened about a month ago and now my name has gone in for a captaincy, but whether I shall get it or not is another matter. I will let you know if I do.
I was very glad to hear from Auntie that Ken had made an attempt to join something, and had been rejected on medical grounds. I hope he will eventually get into something, or at least do some useful war work. If he doesnít, he must prepare to be for ever d-d. Out here we are all very bucked that at last the unwilling ox is to be made to work. I suppose you have heard of Nick Drewís marriage? I was very surprised. Thank heavens I am still heart whole and fancy free. As yet the beauties of the near East have not ensnared me.
Yes, I have often thought of our investigation of a pile of inoffensive shavings in the yard, especially when I have been in the trenches at night trying to discover what some apparently moving object is. On a real dark night the most sturdy bush or tree will move if you only look at it long enough. Many an innocent bush has been the recipient of angry bullets through this peculiarity.
You ask if I would pick up a few curios for you. Certainly I could pick them up in large numbers, but the great difficulty is carrying them about when one moves houses once a week or fortnight. One or two things of personal interest I have managed to carry about with me so far, and I will see if I can bring back one or two odd things for you.
I hope no one expired when you sang ďI dreamt that I dwell in marble hallsĒ. I can quite imagine how easily one gets bored and depressed when confined in any way. Donít get depressed old boy or youíll be sure to get ill. A large amount of sickness out here has, in my opinion, been caused by depression and lack of exercise. Than heaven I have managed to keep very fit.
Until a few days ago we were having quite good weather but recently we have had rather more rain than is pleasant. I suppose you have a very thin time in the cold and wet weather. I am glad Auntie Uncle and Baby are keeping fit and cheerful. Iím sorry to say that any letters from home donít report any improvement in mother. In fact I fear she is rather worse than better.
I certainly shanít be able to sit in an office and write stupid useless things in books after the war. I think you and I had better go into partnership, and try our luck abroad in one of the colonies or some new country. We might make our fortunes in a short while and have no end of a time. Who knows?
Well old chap, I donít think I have much more to say. I drink to our early meeting.
Yours affec cousin
LETTER TO SALLY PETHER (mother of Geoffrey) which was sent to Geoffrey with a note saying ďThought you would like to see this letter, as you cannot have an argument just now dear.Ē
1/11th Bn London Regt, M.E.F.
I have just received your letter dated 1st October which was forwarded from Alexandria. Many thanks for sending off the underclothing so quickly. I expect it will arrive in a week or so, but parcels are very uncertain, they take anything from four to six weeks to reach their destination. I hope by this time you will have received my letter in which I enclosed a letter from Geoff. I hope he is keeping fit and that he wonít find the winter weather too trying. I have been rather seedy lately and have not been able to do any work but I am feeling much better now and hope to be back on duty again in a day or so. I caught a cold and got a temperature with a touch of some slight form of fever which is rather prevalent here just now, there was nothing at all serious the matter.
I was made Brigade Machine Gun Officer soon after my return. This is rather a good job and I hope to be able to retain it. There is a considerable amount of responsibility and a fair amount of work attached to it, but I donít mind that, for as you know, I have always been keen on machine guns. I hope I shanít find that someone else has been given the job while I have been sick.
How is Baby now. I hope she is still doing well at school. I suppose I shall find she has grown tremendously when I return to England. As far as I can see at present there is no chance of our getting away from here this winter. The weather is glorious now, just like English summer, warmer if anything. We have occasional storms of wind and rain which rather spoil things. Yesterday was very windy and we had some rain in the afternoon, but one couldnít wish for a better day than to-day.
Iím afraid there is very little to say. Things are very quiet here now, just a little artillery shooting now and then and the usual sniping, but practically nothing else. Of course we are very thankful there are no big shows on, but trench life becomes rather monotonous if you donít have a scrap every now and then to keep things going.
I hope Uncle is keeping fit and that business is as good as can be expected. How are the Butlers? Please give them my very kind regards. Has Kenneth Brown joined anything yet? If he hasnít I should very much like to hear you make a recruiting speech to him. Iím sure you could give a most effective one.
A great friend of mine who used to be in our battalion and is now in the 10th London was wounded very badly out here the other night. They are very much afraid he wonít live. It makes one feel awfully sick to hear of all oneís pals getting scuppered. Still I suppose its all part of the ďgameĒ. Still thereís no reason why I should burden you with all my woes, there are other more cheerful and amusing sides of warfare which people, blessed with a sense of humour, can fortunately see.
Well Iím afraid I can think of nothing else to say just now. I will write again in a week or so. We have just been told that all letters that we want to get home by Xmas must be posted by Dec 1st so they evidently expect a pretty big rush on the postal arrangements at Xmas. Please give my love to Uncle and Baby.
p.s. I have just been promoted to the temporary rank of lieutenant.
(Poorly drawn picture of an aeroplane with a face on it.
8.12.1915 Ė no address given
My dear Auntie
Many thanks for your letters of the 12th and 19th November which arrived together yesterday. Your cake arrived a few days ago and was very much appreciated by everyone. It is awfully good of you to take the trouble you do about me, you seem more like a second mother than an aunt. I am looking forward to receiving the parcel that one of our next draft is bringing out for me. Iím glad to hear that you get news of Geoff fairly regularly now, I will certainly write to him direct as soon as possible.
I am now at a rest camp at out of the sound of the guns and beyond the reach of the longest range cannon so there is no need to worry about my safety. We had rather a bad time just before we left the . All our heavy baggage such as blankets, kit, etc had to go two days before we left. During those two days we had a tremendous thunderstorm, a snow blizzard and more or less incessant rain. To keep dry was quite impossible and to get warm almost as bad. To sleep for more than half an hour was unheard of during those two days. I stamped about in my dug out, which fortunately had just been roofed with corrugated iron and got my feet warm, but not dry, then lay down in my great coat and got to sleep only to wake up half an hour or so later with stone cold feet and repeat the process. Still all bad things must end and we got our orders to move. By that time of course all the gullies were knee deep in mud and the hills as slippery as ice. Our march to the beach that night was made worse by a bitterly cold wind. It was really so amusing to see everyone slipping and sliding about the place. Men were continually falling down and were unable to get up without help owing to the weight of the packs and equipment. Still the men kept splendidly cheerful and laughed and joked about these things. We got through the tedious work of embarkation without mishap and arrived here in the morning, when we disembarked and marched to our camp, where we have now quite comfortably settled down. Fortunately since we have been here the weather has been warm and fine. The men are recovering their usual health and strength and we are getting fresh drafts from which we hope will soon make us up to full strength again. Where we shall go when we have rested and reorganised I donít know. I should think we are here for at least a we shall certainly be able to celebrate Christmas here in a much more fitting manner than in the trenches.
It is a great relief to be able to walk about in the open without being potted at. It seemed very strange at first and oneís natural instincts were to take cover at all costs. We soon settled down to camp life and our only regret is the number of small wooden crosses marked ď LondonĒ which are dotted about on various parts of the . I am quite comfortable here and share a tent with another of our officers. A tent is wonderfully spacious after a dug out.
Iím very glad to hear that Ken has decided to do something at last. As you say better late than never. We have had all sorts of rumours about compulsory service in England but we have had no official confirmation as yet.
Thank you very much for the torch and the pudding which you have sent. I hope Uncle is keeping fit and well and is not having too strenuous a time at business.
The villages here would amuse you very much. You would be particularly interested in some of the churches and shrines which seem to be stuck about promiscuously all over the island. As a rule they are full of rather gaudy paintings of every saint, apostle and prophet imaginable. The women wash clothes splendidly but they charge awful prices and that is the case with everything. Can you imagine me trying to knock a Ö? Store keeper down (not literally) for a bottle of boot polish which anywhere else one could obtain for 3d and for which he wanted 10d. In the end I gave up the task and paid the price he asked. In England people talk of Jews, they must be princes compared with in this respect. The only native means of locomotion are donkeys. They carry tremendous loads and I often wonder their backs donít break. Can you picture a poor little donkey with two huge bales of washing hung pannier-wise with a fat washer woman on top of the lot, toiling over very rough country with perhaps a small boy in attendance with a large stick to help the donkey up hills.
Now Iím afraid I must close. Please give my love to Uncle and Viola and my kind regard to the Butlers and Browns. Please excuse the writing as it has been done by candlelight.
Your affect nephew