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.
My dear Geoff
I was very bucked indeed to receive your letter yesterday, and if I could I would draw down blessings on the head of a censor who brings me so much pleasure. Glad to hear that you are of the same opinion as to the advantages of an outdoor or indoor life, and are game to turn your hand at something with me. A number of fellows that I know out here are keen on my applying for a commission in the regular army. I don’t think I shall experience much difficulty in getting in as a 2nd Lieutenant but I want to get in a bit higher up than that if I can manage it. You ask if I manage to make both ends meet now. Yes it is quite easy to do so and I have done so ever since mobilisation. Under these conditions one doesn’t need the money one does in peace time. Yes I suppose I am lucky to get a captaincy at my age. Glad to hear that you have plenty of reading material and get plenty of exercise. For goodness sake don’t do too much work with such results as you mention have happened in other cases.
I have been in hospital with a sprained ankle and have only been back with my unit for about a week. I sprained the beastly thing on Christmas Eve but refused to go into hospital until after Christmas. Its not quite right yet but it gets stronger every day and I can do my job all right. I got very fed up with the hospital although they treated me very well. We had a very cheery Christmas in spite of everything. What sort of a time did you have?
Yes I often think of the things you mention. We shall have to slosh some red paint round the town when we get together again. Do you remember the night you discovered a “baby” in the wood yard and we turned every one out of bed to look for it, and the Sunday afternoons when we used to get Ken in such a mess, our schoolboy amours etc. Good days those were. We have some priceless rags now and you would laugh to death if you could have seen a rugger scrum in one of the Battalions mess last night. Majors, captains and subalterns all scrapping in the sand, upsetting the furniture, etc. We make periodical raids on other messes. The great thing just now is to raid a mess and put every member out through his own windows if they have any, if not through the door. We’ve got a very cheery crowd and have great times.
I too shall have to be very careful about my language when I get home again. Its red blood-red out here at times. You ask how many lads we have – roughly about 150 with 9 like myself. Yes, I still have a horse. I will get a snap of myself a cheval taken and send you a copy.
How are you really. Do you realise that we haven’t seen each other for nearly three years. Have you grown vertically or horizontally? Have you got a moustache, beard or side whiskers? Are you going grey or bald? Do you still take an age to dress in the morning and talk “a dog’s hind leg off “at night after retiring? How is your music going? Has your taste in literature undergone a change? What are your views on social economy at present? If you get a chance to write another letter tell me all about these things.
While I was in hospital I read a number of H G Wells books. “Bealby“, “Tono Bungay“, “The Passionate Friends”, “The Food of the Gods“, “The Research Magnificent” and “Ann Veronica“. I also read “The Dop Doctor” for the first time, “Hints to Critics” by Shaw and “The Relentless City” by Benson and “Simon the Jester” by Locke. They are all worth reading if you can get hold of any of them. If you don’t agree with Wells don’t get angry with him when he moralises or puts forward political theories. Remember he’s a crank but think over his theories. Now I’m getting in deep water so must stop.
Cheer up old son. I ain’t got much money but I am seeing life at present and we’ll tell each other all about it when the “good days” come again. Never say die and by the living tinker we’ll get ‘em cold yet. Some day we’ll jog around this old world together and see and do things that men see and do. That’s the great thing in life. Au revoir old sport.
Your ever affect cousin
My dear Geoff
I was awfully bucked to receive your letter of 5th Feb. which reached me a short time ago. You will probably have heard from your mater that I was slightly wounded again on 19th April. I am quite fit again now and have been back at my job for a fortnight. My arm hasn’t recovered its full strength yet but that is only a question of time. Sorry to hear that you have been having such beastly cold weather but hope it has improved now. Yes it is quite warm out here, in fact it is beginning to get unpleasantly hot in the middle of the day. How on earth I shall ever stick a cold climate again I don’t know. I’m afraid I can’t give you much news but I will try and answer some of your questions first.
Yes I have seen Bairnsfather’s cartoons, they are absolutely splendid, especially if you have seen some of the things and characters he draws. I came across an absolute facsimile of “Old Bill” in our trenches a day or so ago,. One can appreciate the humour of “If you know of a better ‘ole” after a little practical experience, I think that his very best effort.
Many thanks for your congratulations on my coming of age. I celebrated it on trek, we must have a proper celebration when this b----y war is over.
I have read a good deal in the paper about an exchange of prisoners, but I fear nothing is likely to come of it. I can in some part imagine how irksome and trying you find the restricted movement.
No I am not getting any civil pay but I find my army pay sufficient, at any rate for my present needs. I have still a horse thank goodness, I had enough of foot slogging in my early days in the army. Our rations are good and plentiful and although parcels of grub are always acceptable they are by no means essential. I don’t know whether you would consider us far removed from civilisation or not. If distance were the standard we are but we are within a week’s postal distance of shops and one can get back to civilisation in two days – if one gets the chance.
I had quite a pleasant rest in hospital. My wound gave me very little trouble and healed extraordinarily quickly. The bullet went in above the elbow joint and came out in my forearm, without damaging any bones which was very lucky. The muscle and nerves were a bit torn but they soon recovered.
Glad to hear that you have something in chemistry literature etc to interest you and that so far your nerves haven’t suffered. I only hope your estimate is true and that we shall meet as soon as you expect.
I have met a good many Old Paulines at various times. There were two in my battalion but they have all been men who left before you went there – some contemporaries of Bewshire who was an ADC in the Division we mobilised with but I think I have told you this before.
We have been pretty quiet here for the last week or so but I have had plenty to do and not much time to spare. Have you ever seriously considered what you are going to do after the war? I have applied for a regular commission and think I shall get it with a certain amount of seniority so that I can stay on in the army if I like it and can see my way clear to do so.
There is a Khamsin blowing at present which makes things rather unpleasant. A Khamsin is a hot dust and sand laden wind which blows up from the south about this time of the year. It is almost stifling at times, thank goodness they seldom last more than two or three days and the period during which they blow is short.
Well old chap I’m afraid there isn’t much else to say. Keep cheerful and lets hope we soon meet again.
Your affec. Cousin
My dear Geoff
I was very pleased to get your letter of 7th July which arrived yesterday. I feel an awful rotter for not having written to you for such a long time. First of all I want to talk about what we are going to do after the war. My reasons for putting in for a regular commission were that I have no intention of returning to my old office job and I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t out of a job of some sort. I don’t for a moment think that I shall be able to afford to live in the army, but if I can stick it for a year or so after the war it will give me a chance to have a look round. I would far rather take up some farming stunt with you than stay in the army and we must certainly stick together whatever happens. Its really not a great deal of good my making any definite plans for the future as I may get my light put out any day. Still one mustn’t be pessimistic and the picture of you and me on some farm or jogging round seeing the world forms a very delightful castle in the air.
I was very pleased to read in the papers some days ago that there is a possibility of your being exchanged or of some better arrangement for you. I only hope it comes off and that you will be able to get home.
By Jove there are stacks of things you will have to teach me, fencing, jiu-jitsu and some of the hundred and one languages you have learnt. You speak of my acting as your guide and pilot when you go avisiting, I fear it will be a case of the blind leading the blind. My table manners are atrocious and my language lurid in the extreme, anyway we shall be companions in crime.
The weather isn’t too bad where we are now. Its pretty hot of course but we have broken the back of the hot weather and have the cool times to look forward to. You seem to be having beastly hot weather, I’d no idea it got so hot in your part of the world. Unfortunately we are too far from the sea to get any bathing now. Things are pretty quiet but there is always plenty to do and I have had a very busy time lately.
I agree with you that Kenneth’s reasons for not joining up sooner are rather thin but I suppose alls well that ends well.
I sent Auntie a photograph which I had taken in Cairo for you but I believe she decided not to confide it to the “tender” mercies of the international post. I should very much like one of you – a recent one – if you have such a thing to spare.
Uncle, Auntie and Viola all seem very pleased with the new house and the surroundings. We shall have to make a thorough exploration and report when we get home. I’m afraid we shan’t go to bed at all for the first few nights. There will be such stacks of things to talk about. Mother, Dad and Margaret and Cicely are at present on a three weeks holiday at Weston. Dorothy is busy picking apples etc. I’m glad Dad went away as he was very badly in need of a rest and a change.
My wound was in my right arm. It has healed completely long ago and has been just as strong as before for two or three months now. I unfortunately had my servant killed about a month ago. I had had him some time and he was a very good fellow indeed and I was awfully sorry to lose him.
Well old man I’ve about stumped myself for news. Cheer up and lets hope the war may soon be over and we can both return to Blighty.
Your affec cousin
p.s. I am frightfully sorry I forgot to thank you for the magazine in my last letter. I received it and was very interested in it. Thanks very much.
7.12.17 – censored – very, very badly. Letter consists of three strips of paper + one slightly larger piece.
My dear Geoff
Well how are things going old boy. Are you keeping fit? It really is too much to keep you penned up all these years while there is so much going on. What sort of news do you get? I suppose you hear about most things that happen from various sources.
I daresay Auntie has told you that I left the old company a short time ago and am now with Divisional HQ. At first I liked the change but now I am getting rather fed up and should be glad to go back to the company again.
How is the fencing going? I suppose you lay claims to be an accomplished fencer now. Can you do all the tricks and use all the weapons of the fellow in “Micah Clarke”. Do you remember the chap I mean. How are the languages progressing, you will be a very distinguished linguist as the papers say when the war is over.
Really it is a nuisance that censor’s rules and regulations prevent our writing about the really interesting things that have been happening recently. What a lot we shall have to tell each other when we’ve finished off this rotten old war and get home again. I have heard pretty regularly from your mater and she and Uncle and Viola all seem very fit.
Well old boy I’m afraid interesting news not of military importance is scanty so I will end with wishes for as happy a Christmas and bright a New Year as are possible in the circumstances. Cheerioh and may we soon meet in Blighty.