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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.
In 4 pieces Ė 1st & 4th pages are obvious Ė not sure of the order of 2nd and 3rd page.
My dear Geoff
I was awfully bucked to receive your letter of the 25th Nov, which arrived a few days ago. I was very sorry to hear that your eyes are giving trouble and that you have had to take to glasses. I hope you have nothing serious the matter with them. It seems an awful shame and such awful rot too that they canít arrange some sort of exchange of civil prisoners. However, old boy I hope the end is not very far off now and that we shall soon meet again in dear old Blighty.
You ask me to propose plans for the future. I donít think I can until one has some idea of what conditions will be after the war. I agree with you and am all for the waste spaces of the earth. Towns and cities are unbearable for any length of time.
My word for it that it will be well worth doing. I know most of the country we should traverse and canít imagine January and February or March spent in a better way.
Books are scarce here. They are heavy for a limited kit so I havenít done much reading lately. Your books on the occult sound interesting. What an extraordinary well read fellow you will have become. I fear I am losing ground rather than making any headway in that type of education
I have just applied for home leave and if I get it hope to get home about the middle of next month. They are however not very liberal with leave at present and Iím afraid the odds are very much against me. Still a very good motto for young officers is always apply for leave in the end you will acquire a right to it. Of course if I go on leave I lose my acting rank of major but I donít mind that much.
Iím afraid there isnít much interesting news that I can give you. Most of the interesting details of my life here must be kept until we meet, then we will have a real old buck together.
I donít think you need to worry very much about the future Ė your command of languages will always get you a good billet and as for being a drag on Auntie and Uncle Iím sure it would annoy them immensely if they knew that you worried about it, so you mustnít do so.
.Now I have written enough so goodbye for the present.
Your affec. Cousin
9/2/18 Ė a bit of a mauling by the censor
My dear Geoff
I was very bucked to get your letter of the 17th November. I have just returned from a few days leave . I tried to get English leave but the powers that be decided that my reasons were not sufficiently urgent to warrant the trouble and expense of sending me home. The change was very pleasant and I was able to restock my somewhat depleted wardrobe. I met heaps of fellows I knew also on pleasure bent and really had a very enjoyable time. is fortunately devoid of many of the restrictions that I believe exist in other places.
Iím afraid your Christmas was not a very cheerful one. We had quite a good time the country we are in now is more productive than anything we have been used to and it is a great help to be able to get a certain amount of stuff locally. Also there are houses and towns here where one can live in the bad weather Ė a decided improvement on .
How are you keeping now fit I hope and not too depressed. How are the eyes? You must be careful with yourself. It is just ages since we met and I am longing for the times when the war will be over and we can have some of our old talks.
I donít think we need worry very much about what will happen after the war. As far as I can see there will be the whole world to remake and rebuild on better lines and there will be plenty of work worth while for young and energetic fellows as I hope we shall be.
War is an appalling waste of time in many ways, there are times when one has just nothing to do and there are other times when one is frantically busy. But all work in war is either directly or indirectly destructive. I want to do some constructive work donít you?
Do you know Geoff you are the only person that I can write to on these matters with a sure feeling that I shall be understood and the pity of it is that we canít carry on a continuous conversation on any subject because our letters take such ages on their journeys. I am glad you are unmarried and have no ties other than parental. I should be jealous of your wife or fiancť if you had one. Good gracious what rot I am writing.
The only fellow I know out here named Church has a brother in the army in France but as far as I know he hasnít been taken prisoner so I donít think it can be the same man as you refer to. Do they have any prisoners of war in the same camp as you or are they kept entirely separate.
The weather here has been pretty bad since I returned. I donít think I have ever seen such heavy rain or such vivid lightning. The wadis Ė dried up water
courses Ė flood very quickly and roads become deep in mud so that unless one has to get about a lot one stays at home and confines ones energies to officer work.
Auntie, Uncle and Viola all seem very fit. Viola will have grown out of recognition by the time we get back. Iím afraid Motherís rheumatism doesnít improve, the wet weather too is particularly trying for her. She is wonderfully brave and never complains, her letters to me are always very cheerful. Of course you know that Dorothyís engaged to Henry Hebditch. Cyril has left Petters in Yeovil and gone to some firm in Glasgow I believe. Poor old Leslie was killed in France Ė the last thing on earth he was meant to be was a soldier.
What are your theories about my trade? Can they be put into writing if so I should be awfully interested to hear them. Experiences goes a long way but new ideas are always wanted.
Iím sure I shall be interested in your stock of books. Service conditions are not very conducive to serious reading so my attention has been chiefly confined to novels of a lighter nature. I have consumed most of H G Wells novels also a lot of Mark Twains lately.
Now I am stumped for anything to write about. Cheer oh for the present old boy will write again soon.
Your affec cousin
My dear Geoff
I am afraid itís some time since I last wrote to you for which many apologies. I have been pretty busy lately and look like being busier still in the near future. How are things going with you these days? I hope you are able to pass the time away with as little boredom as possible.
At last there seems a possibility of the end of the war being in sight. I am beginning to think that the thing will be decided in the course of the next three months. Of course hostilities may not cease for some time after that but I think the end of the year ought to see peace declared. I suppose it will be some time after the end of the war before they take us home from this part of the world but a short time here under peace conditions will really be quite pleasant.
What is the weather like with you now? I trust that the cold and wet have finished and that the weather if nothing else is pleasant for you. It is beginning to get quite warm here now. The weather has been very variable and almost like that at home up to the present but now I think we have got to the end of the rain and cold and it will soon be getting quite hot.
You will be surprised to hear that they have given me a Military Cross. Goodness only knows why as I have never done anything at all brave to my knowledge. I suppose the powers that be must have been hard up for a fellow to hang medals on. I had to attend a presentation the other day at which I received the medal and had it taken away again to be sent home for engraving. It was quite an interesting ceremony really but very nerve wracking for bashful people like your cousin.
I am glad to hear that so far ÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖ.. and I sincerely hope they will continue to do so. Viola will have grown out of recognition by the time we get home and will be quite an important young lady and I suppose we shall have to treat her as such and deal summarily with her numerous admirers. We shall have both grown up quite a lot by the end of the war and have modified our views on life a little I expect. I am very eager to talk again with you on the subjects we used to discuss at such lengths.
I am afraid you will find this rather a dull letter but itís rather difficult to make it anything else when the object of universal interest Ė the Ėwar Ė is a subject that can only be touched on in a very general and uninteresting way.
Well old boy, Iím afraid I must stop writing and do a job of work. Keep fit and hope for the speedy end of the war. I feel sure our hopes wonít be futile now. The best of luck.
Your affec. Cousin
My dear Geoff
The postal services are rather erratic these days and I fear some of my letters may have gone astray. I was glad to hear that Auntie and Uncle had been able to gain some first hand information of you through one of your late companions and I hope you will soon be home yourself. I see there has been some further talk of an exchange of prisoners which I hope will materialise.
How are things going with you now. I trust that you manage to keep fit and well. The confinement must be extremely irksome but there seems hopes of the ending soon old boy. Keep your heart high.
We are beginning to get rather warmer weather now and the demand for liquid refreshment is increasing with leaps and bounds. Fortunately the supply here is quite equal to the demand.
I have got a new job since I last wrote to you and I think it would be best for you to write to me through your mater in the future. I am very comfortable and have been having quite a cheerful time lately. As you no doubt know we have not been particularly active recently and have been able to devote some
time to games and sports. I am just starting to learn polo. One of my ponies is quite useful at the game but the other I fear is a large and clumsy horse and quite impossible for polo.
I havenít done any serious reading lately. Mess life as led here is not very conducive to reading and itís difficult to settle down to anything more serious than a ďWellsĒ or similar type of novel. As far as I can see there will be some very interesting problems to discuss after the war and I am sure most of us will look at life from a more reasonable standpoint.
I suppose you will have heard of Dorothyís marriage before this reaches you. Heaven preserve me from a similar fate Ė at any rate for the present. It was a great surprise to me and Iím not sure that it was a really wise move on their part Ė still as Mother said the war has altered many things.
I hadnít time to finish this letter last night so please overlook the fact that it is disjointed. Do you ever hear from Kenneth Brown now? Does your dear friend Margery write to you. She sent me a Christmas card which I fear I hadnít the courage to acknowledge except through your mater.
The old days at Harlesden seem a long way off now and it would be splendid to get back to normal conditions again. You will find this letter uninteresting in the extreme I fear. The things that I should most like to write to you about are unfortunately taboo. What a treat it will be when one can write freely of oneís doings without a chance of breaking the censorship rules.
Well goodbye for the present old boy. Cheer up and hope for the best.
Your affec. Cousin
My dear Geoff
I wonder will you receive this letter or will it go the way of many others. Our mails are rather erratic these days but all things considered we donít actually lose many although they are often very much delayed.
How are you these days. Of course you are bored with continued confinement and its marvellous that you manage to keep as cheerful as you do. Things are looking very much better now and I really think that we shall see the end of all this stupidity in a very short time. Anyway there can be no doubt of the issue and its only a question of time.
I have been thinking rather a lot lately about life after the war. I have got a regular commission in the S.L.I as a Lieutenant but I am inclined to think that peace time soldiering wont suit me over much and I donít know if I should be able to maintain myself in the army. I should very much like to go into some joint enterprise with you, there will be so much useful work to be done after the war that it seems a pity to devote the whole of ones energies to the destructive work of soldiering. I have a scheme its very ethereal at present and the barest outlines only exist. This is my idea and it may or may not coincide with any castles in the air that you have built. First of all I feel sure that we were made for the big open spaces of the world and not intended to be cooped up in a stuffy town. Productive work is what is wanted after the war and especially has the production of food got to be built up. Why shouldnít we turn our attention to that. In other words why not become farmers. The question of course is how are we to do so. As you no doubt know Dorothy has recently married Henry Hebditch who is a farmer. We could arrange to attach ourselves to him for a while to learn some of the practical side of the work, and at the same time we could study the theoretical side. After all in these days of cheap editions one can learn an enormous amount from books. You ask how are we to keep ourselves during this learning period. Well I have managed to save a little money out of my pay and if we lived simply and worked hard I reckon that we could amass sufficient knowledge in a year or eighteen months to form a groundwork for our enterprise. The next thing is to discover our field of enterprise Ė the world is still full of empty spaces, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Rhodesia, all are possibilities. The definite decision must come later. Having made our decision we have to get there and here again if we have been careful my savings will help. On arrival we must attach ourselves to and work on a farm of the type we intend to establish in order to gain experience of local conditions and methods. Whatever we earn must be saved and placed in the capital fund to purchase our land. I know one reads endless tales of the emigrant being unable to get work but I cant believe that two healthy young fellows could be long without getting a job. Then again comes the question of raising the wind to get a grant of land, enough capital to purchase land outright will be impossible but there are such things as government grants and all colonial governments have offices in London where information on such points can be obtained, and of course we must have our campaign properly planned before starting. Hard work and determination are Iím sure the key notes of the success of such a plan. Perhaps your criticism will be that we both shall be hoary headed old men before we can even start to pay our way. Well that may be but better to have lived a strenuous useful life than to have been stewed and mangled through a town life. Now old boy bring your level head to bear critical enquiry into this scheme which sounds so like lots of novels and let me know the result. The great thing to my mind is to start the thing immediately the war is over. There will be a big cry of back to the land after the war and we must get in before the crush begins. Many people will dilly dally about for a bit before taking any steps, we must have our minds made up at any rate as regards the general lines we intend to work upon. You will be curious to know what amount of money I have saved that I speak of using so many times over. At present I have £150 invested in war bonds and before the end of another four months I hope to have added another £100 to that. Of course its not really a large sum but it should help. May be I shall have saved more before the war ends. I have a very well paid job now and expenses on active service even on a Corps HQ are not very great. You will perhaps say you cant help spend money I have saved. Thatís nonsense its just capital that I put into the fund and takes the place of the extra learning that you have got. Whatever you say against this will make no impression on me so donít make that one of your criticisms. This of course is strictly confidential.That is my idea and now I want to hear yours. I am going to do my best to get hold of and study any books on agriculture, cattle raising etc that I can and perhaps you will do the same. Of course the army may refuse to take my resignation and a thousand other things ÖÖÖÖÖ..
remainder of this letter is missing.
Red pencil across the first page Ėnot quite sure why
My dear Geoff
Since I last wrote to you I have had another change in occupation. I am now back with my old Division and am commanding a Machine Gun Company again. I keep my rank of Major which is a good thing. I came back for reasons which I canít give here Iím afraid.
How are things going with you now. I trust that the efforts that are now being made to effect an exchange of prisoners will be more fruitful than previous ones have been. It seems such awful rot that they cannot come to some agreement about it.
I hope you are able to keep fit in spite of the very adverse conditions. We are having quite a pleasant time at present training and spending our spare times at sports. We have taken to playing polo, our colonel is a cavalry soldier and is awfully good at the game. We are of course beginners and our ponies are not trained polo ponies but we are improving and are getting some quite good games. Itís an awfully fine game and well worth learning. I feel an awful rotter writing to you about such things as I feel you would simply love the sort of life we are leading here and instead you are cooped up in a prisoners camp. We shall have to teach us other lots of different things after the war.
Its pretty hot here now and the flies are becoming a beastly nuisance. How is the weather with you. The news has been much better lately and from all accounts the people at home are full of buck and hope for the future,
Its awful to think of the waste of lives and time and that the fifth year of this wretched war is now starting.
I hear that Kenneth is with the RNAS but not flying. I suppose he has changed to the Royal Air Force now that it has been started. Do you remember our model aeroplanes? What tremendous strides have been made in the flying world since the war started. I suppose after the war there will be regular air services. At any rate there are boundless possibilities for its further development.
I suppose Auntie has told you about the pigs and allotment. I cant quite imagine Uncle as a gardener and farmer. Its really remarkable what people can turn their hands to when the necessity arises. The way in which women have taken up every kind of work during the war is really wonderful.
Well old boy I havenít much news to give you and Iím afraid you will find my letter dull and uninteresting. We shall have plenty of interesting topics to discuss when we meet or when censorship regulations no longer exist.
The very best of luck and may you soon get away in an exchange.
Your affec. Cousin
G C Pether Esq, British Civil Prisoner, Box 5, Barracks 8, Englandlager Ruhlaben. Then sent to 13 Craven Road, Harlesden, London and then to The Rest, Bedford Avenue, High Barnet, Herts
My dear Geoff
I was awfully bucked to receive your letter of the 6/8/18 forwarded from Barnet. Iím sorry to hear that you have been laid up with flu and hope you will be able to avoid sickness and keep fit through the winter.
As you may have read we have been having stirring times out here and have more or less justified our existence. Details Iím afraid I cannot give just yet but if events continue in their present strain I hope soon to be able to write without restriction of the events of the past few years. Needless to say we have been very busy for the past few months and have had some strenuous times but all the way through our luck has been in and we havenít done too badly.
Books on a mobile scale of kit have to be reduced to a minimum and I have only got Lambs Essays with me but soon I hope we shall settle down and get up the rest of our kit. I havenít read the books of GKCís that you mention but shall make a point of getting hold of them. The only books Iíve read since the show started last month are ďMr Britling sees it throughĒ by H G Wells and ďSomoĒ by Stephen MacKenna. Both are war stories, the former I can thoroughly recommend and suggest you obtain it at once, the latter is not so good but still worth reading as it raises many interesting points for thought and discussion.
I had a most amusing account of the pigs and the allotment from your mater, apparently Uncle has become quite a ďknow itĒ in the local agricultural and horticultural world. We shall have some very good fun when we get home after the war pulling their legs about various things.
What do you think of the Representation of the People Act or havenít you heard anything about it. Behold in me a voter in the County Borough of Somersetshire. I have Ė while with the force Ė to exercise my citizenship by proxy and the number and variety of forms to be filled up is surprising. One inclines to the opinion that its an awful nuisance being an enfranchised citizen of a nation at war. Still I suppose its rather a national duty to utilise oneís vote.
I should like to discuss many after the war problems but time and space donít permit. I agree that government by one caste is a mistake Ė on the other hand - capital we know makes many grave errors but can labour do no wrong think you.
Well old boy goodbye for the present. I hope to see you within a few months. I hope you will be able to read this as I have a septic hand which is covered with bandages. Cheerio the best of good luck and good health.
Your affec. Cousin
My dear Geoff,
I was delighted to get your letter of Dec. 4th and to know that you had arrived home safely. I can quite imagine how overjoyed you were to get back. and how difficult it is to fully realise that the whole rotten business is over and that you are free at last. You will have to take things very quietly at first until you are really strong and well again.
I'm afraid I shan't get away for a bit, but I hope for a little leave to England in a month or so.
Demobilisation is a long and difficult process, and the serving soldiers will all be wanted for foreign services very soon, so I donít suppose I shall be home for long unless I chuck up the army. I donít think its much good doing anything hurriedly and I want to talk to you and all sorts of people before doing anything definite. I have applied for the Egyptian Army but they wont take me until I'm 25 although they have promised to take me then if I still want to go. It is a well paid service, and, if you get up in the Sudan there is plenty of interesting and useful work to be done.
I was very surprised to read your account of the conditions prevailing in Germany. I imagined that things were pretty bad, but I had no idea that they were nearly as desperate as you say. It is to be hoped that their sufferings will have the effect of eradicating their preposterous ideas, and that with a reasonable form of government they may improve.
We are at a place called Helmich now - about 20 mins train journey from Cairo. It is such a good camp and we have settled down quite comfortably. The army has turned itself into one big school and everyone is concentrated on education. At present the whole scheme is in a very elementary stage, but
with care and proper organisation it should prove a very useful thing, and have a lasting effect. After four and a half years war everybody's brain is a little fuddled about ordinary civilian matters that have now become of paramount importance. Our main objects are to get the men to use their brains, that is really teaching them how to learn, and to broaden their outlook on life in general. Whether we succeed or not remains to be seen.
In the afternoon we play hockey, football and polo, so we are really having quite a good time and are keeping very fit.
Well old boy I hope to see you soon and talk over all sorts of things. My love to Auntie, Uncle and Viola. the best of luck.
Your affec. cousin