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.
Envelope dated 18 Feb 1916
No address or date on letter
My dear Geoff
I was most awfully glad to get your letter. Auntie didn’t send me on the Xmas menu card, but I shall probably see it when I get back to London. It will certainly be quite an interesting souvenir. I am glad to hear that you don’t indulge in weeping and bemoaning your bad luck. I fear your mathematics are quite beyond me. I have forgotten all I ever knew of the subject, my head is full of rules and reasons about things that make unpleasant noises, and are apt to hurt, if not treated with due respect, and pointed in the right direction. I am afraid I cannot test your theory as to the dispersing power of the Boy Scouts war cry. If I tried it on a field day I should probably find myself under arrest, and if I tried it on service I should either be shot by my foes or sent to hospital as a dangerous lunatic by my friends.
Yes I was with some of the fellows who cleared out the other day. Many of us were rather sick at going, but what are we if not obedient to the great ones, who decide these things. Poor old Ken has been rejected by the sawbones I hear. I’m glad he made an effort towards the end. “Better late than never” Yes I heard you answer “But better never late”.
Well my lad I am now a shipper/skipper(?) and must be treated with due respect by an ordinary civil member of the community. I am at present basking under sunny skies, but of course have no notion how long such bliss will last. Be sure that you have my sincerest sympathy in your confinement. How I wish we could have gone through this show together. Still I have dreams of adventures in some new land when this wicked war is over. I shall probably have the deeds of partnership drawn up ready for your signature when you return to England. Can you imagine me sitting on an office stool deciding whether a postman shall be paid 6½d or 6¼d an hour for carrying mail bags after ten o’clock at night. It is quite as awful a vision as your designing semi-detached suburban villas at 1/6 each.. N.B. 1/6 is not supposed to be the price of the house, but your wage for designing such monstrosities.
A truce to this folly, these are times when one’s duty is to serious. The best way to be serious is I find to treat things lightheardedly and avoid pulling a long face over seeming disasters. You will say this letter is full of platitudes or feeble attempts at platitudes. Think not on that account that I am getting old and staid, and have lost my sense of humour and youthful powers of enjoyment. No, if you want to enjoy life and cultivate a somewhat undersized sense of humour, join the army my boy.
I hear from your mater nearly every week and she gives me all the latest news of you. I’m glad Auntie, Uncle and Viola are keeping fit. I fear there isn’t much improvement in mother’s health. She has to go about in a wheeled chair now. One can only hope that she will be cured some day very soon, although it seems to have almost past hope now. Everyone else seems very well. I don’t know what Cyril is doing, something useful I hope.
Well goodbye old boy. I drink to our very speedy meeting. Keep cheerful and remember that depression and idleness means sickness for you. Above all things keep fit.
Your affect cousin
P.S. You will notice that in one passage of this epistle I address you as “my lad” and in another “my boy”. This I claim the right to as I have now reached the mature age of twenty and have attained the rank of captain in MCamp(?)
My dear Geoff
Many thanks for your postcard dated 5/4/16 which reached me about a week ago. I am glad you received my letter, I was rather afraid it wouldn’t get through all the various censor hands successfully. I have got my captaincy now and I have also got command of a machine gun company. I had to form the company and get it going, needless to say there was and still is a tremendous amount of work to be done, especially clerical work. Still I think I managed to scrape through the formation all right and have got things going pretty smoothly now. How splendid it would be if you could be with us. Would you be content to serve in my company? I’m afraid your opinion of me as a soldier is rather low. Anyway it would have been great if we could have got in the same show.
It is most frightfully hot here at present. Yesterday we had a temperature of 110 o in a bell tent at 2p.m. My usual garb, except when riding, is a shirt, a pair of shorts, boots, socks and puttees. When riding of course I have to change shorts for breeches. Even in those clothes one can sit in a tent and sweat any time between 11 am and 4 pm. The one great salvation of this place is the bathing. We are not allowed to bathe between 11am and 4pm for fear of sunstroke but after 4pm we have great times. The water is by far the most buoyant I have ever bathed in and it is possible to stay in for an hour or more at a time. It is the only cool place in fact. Of course the evenings and early mornings are very fine here. We are working at 5am or soon after every morning and we do nothing from 11am to 4 pm.
I was glad to hear that Chubby Culling is keeping fit in France. There are all sorts of rumours of where we are going. I hope they will send us to France before the show is over, and I hope you won’t have to wait until Doomsday for that.
I hear from Auntie Sally regularly and she keeps me posted with what news she gets of you, but it is better of course to hear from you direct. Dad spent Easter at Weston with Margaret and Cicely, I am sorry to say that Mother doesn’t get much better but we are all hoping for an improvement in the summer. I hope you are keeping fit. I am as fit as possible and almost as brown as a nigger.
I don’t know how to regard your proposal to teach me the Italian foil. Are you busying yourself learning how to use it? Do you have any work to do apart from looking after your own portion of the camp? If all your time is your own I should imagine you would find it difficult to fill. We had some excellent sports on Easter Monday and we have now taken up hockey with walking sticks and a tennis ball. We play every evening after bathing and have had some great games.
Now I fear I must say goodbye. Please write again as soon as possible. Cheer up old boy.
Your affec. Cousin
N.B.. I have now got an excellent Arab pony with a flowing tail as per usual pictures to which I sing “my beautiful, my beautiful”, as in the old days I sang it to you.
My dear Geoff
Many thanks for your last postcard. I was glad to hear that you are keeping as fit and cheerful as possible. Glad to hear that you are carrying on with your studies, I shall be quite afraid of you when we meet again. I fear I have forgotten everything I ever knew and what is more I have lost the inclination to learn many of the useless things I swotted at before the war.
No there is very little doing here, of course I cannot tell you anything really interesting because of the place of your abode. I am saving up my interesting facts for the great re-union. By jove what a time we’ll have then. I am sure we join with you in hoping that this year will see the end of the war but it will have to be a satisfactory end for us to be pleased. We don’t want to have another similar show in a few years time.
Auntie tells me that you would like a photograph of me in uniform. I am sorry I haven’t one at present, but if I get one I will send her a copy to transmit to you.
I was sorry to hear that Viola was seedy a few weeks ago but I believe she is fit again now. I am glad to hear, as far as you can tell from letters, that Uncle and Auntie are keeping well. I’m afraid Mother is showing no signs of improvement. I’m as fit as a fiddle, and as brown as a berry. Plenty of bathing, riding and outdoor work of every description keep one very fit. We have fairly sweated here lately. The temperature in the middle of the day in a tent is anything between 110o and 120o , and we get hot winds every afternoon which are rather trying. Fortunately we can get ice and plenty of
liquid refreshment, and we do get rid of some liquid I can tell you. Our motto is “If you don’t drink you can’t sweat, if you can’t sweat you’ll die. Therefore drink – not to excess but sufficiently”. I have got a very cheery mess and am getting along well with my new job which I daresay Auntie has told you of.
Well keep your pecker up old boy. Lets hope we shall soon meet once more in England. Cheer up.
Your thirsty cousin
P.S. Please don’t put Temp. on front of my rank when writing in future.
My dear Geoff,
Many thanks for your postcard of 22/7/16 which I was very pleased to get. Glad to hear that my letter reached you safely, but am afraid several have gone astray. I was awfully bucked to hear that they had been taking an interest in you. I suppose the American Embassy is responsible for that. Is there any chance of an exchange? I sincerely hope so, you must be horribly fed up after nearly two years. Still cheer up old son, lets hope it will soon be over.
This letter must necessarily be short as the things I should like to write of and which you would care to hear are of course barred. I am still in the land of sand and little rain – sorry to hear that you have been having such beastly weather. I hope August was a decent month. Auntie sent me on the programme of the Camp’s “Assault at Arms” in which I was very interested. How did you get on in your contest? I hope you proved victorious. You will have to instruct me in the noble art of fencing when this beastly war is over. Things have been rather devoid of excitement here lately but we are looking forward to getting a shift soon. I have plenty to occupy myself with.
I suppose you know that Auntie, Uncle and Viola have been staying at Weston. Dorothy is busy doing farm work. By the way what are we going to do after the war? I can’t picture myself going back to the office. Have you any plans – if so may I share them? My own idea is farming either at home or abroad, preferably abroad – somewhere where its not too cold and they don’t get a superabundance of rain.
Well now I must shut up. I am very fit and hope you are the same. Cheer up old sport. May we meet again very soon.