Letters from the Great War

Bill Burgess. Bill Burgess.

Thursday, May 15, 2014
5:23 PM

Read about the firsthand experiences of local men at the front from the archives of Ilfracombe Museum.

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The North Devon Gazette is asking readers to share family records and memories of World War One ahead of the centenary this summer.The North Devon Gazette is asking readers to share family records and memories of World War One ahead of the centenary this summer.

ILFRACOMBE Museum volunteer Jane Dendle has spent months gathering letters home from men of the town who served at the front during the First World War.

At times humorous, poignant and grim, some of the letters have been collected into a booklet called Written at the Front which can be viewed at the museum shop, costing £2. The full archive of letters is available to view on request.

Jane, whose ancestor James Dendle volunteered and served as a driver, initially began researching the letters in old newspapers for her own interest: “I realised these were eye-witness accounts of the events of 100 years ago and was fascinated by the story they told of the Great War,” she said.

“The more I went on, the more I became convinced that as many others as possible should also hear the voices of these brave young men.”

To mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War and in the run up to Ilfracombe’s commemorative parade on Saturday, August 2, we will be publishing one of the letters each week.

The following letter was received by Mr and Mrs H Burgess, of 10, Larkstone Crescent, Ilfracombe, from their son, Pte W Burgess, of the Royal Field Artillery, who at the time was lying wounded at the London Hospital in Whitechapel Road.

He was among those involved in four days’ ‘severe fighting’ between the British and German forces the previous week.

September 5, 1914

Dear Parents – I expect you will be glad to hear from me. I have been badly wounded in two places by a shrapnel shell; I shall get better, though, in a week or so.

I got hit in the right cheek and in the back. We had an awful time; lost a lot of men in our battery. The shells were flying all over the field. We had to retreat on Monday and Tuesday, and on Wednesday morning we met them about three in the morning.

We killed hundreds of their men, but the more we killed the more came up and took their places.

We made arrangements to meet the French on that morning, but they did not turn up; there was a mistake made in the time. If they had come we may have done better, but the generals said it was the best bit of work England has ever done as regards fighting.

We only had 75,000 men while the Germans had 200,000, so you can see what we did.

I got taken in a French hospital, but in the morning the Germans started shelling it; they blew it to bits and as they advanced they burnt down houses and killed women and children, and blew up churches. They are gone real mad.

They were real cowards, as soon as we charged them they dropped their rifles and ran like mad. Well, mother, I wish you could send me a few little things, such as books to read… I think this is all at present.

With best love, from your ever loving son, Bill.

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