Uncensored letter from the Great War

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.

Friday, August 1, 2014
9:24 AM

A true glimpse of life in the trenches after a Devon man’s letter miraculously made it home past the censors.

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EXCERPTS from an unusual letter written by Trevor Bird, a 20-year-old officer in the Indian Army, that actually managed to make it to his parents in Guernsey uncensored and gives a true glimpse into life in the trenches.

He survived the war and reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He lived until the ripe old age of 102 in Bradninch near Cullompton, but was well known in North Devon, visiting local parishes as a lay preacher after leaving the army.

December 25th 1914

My Dear Father, Christmas Day you see and me still alive, though, by Jove, since the 20th I’ve been having a fairly hairy time.

We were sent out in the middle of the night to a place where the Germans had broken the line and the situation was very critical. We had to make our way up to the trenches through an unpleasantly heavy fire for about two miles.

We were lucky in that we only had two men killed and several wounded. When we finally got under the last cover available we were ordered to make a bayonet attack on the German trenches!

It was a criminal order on the part of the man who ordered it. We had formed up for the attack and were about to move off for what would have been certain death for 90 per cent of us, when we were told the attack was off.

So off we went to trenches instead which were half full of water in which we had to lie. I was in water for 26 hours. Three infantry battalions came up and made the attack and they could not force the position for two days.

They were 2,700 strong and used to the bayonet, whereas we, at most, could produce 500 men and absolute children with the bayonet, having had it about a month, it would have simply resulted in our decimation.

I was relieved and sent to dry myself with my half squadron in a small house behind the firing line. After half an hour (and we still sopping wet) we were sent off to another lot of trenches and at 4pm for a patrol.

The Bosch had made a gap in the wire and I was sent to find the gap. I had to crawl on hands and knees for three quarters of a mile through mud and filth about a foot deep along a ditch at the side of a road. Every time I showed myself ‘ping’ went a bullet.

I finally reached the line of British trenches where, to cap all my troubles, I was arrested as a German spy. It was not until I had been taken before the CO, with a rifle muzzle in the small of my back that I was allowed to depart.

Yesterday (Dec 24th), we did a 25 mile march back to the spot we are at now where we are to have a well earned rest. We might even get leave. Unfortunately the sojourn in the water completely did me in and I have a pair of feet like balloons and an attack of neuritis and a chill.

The doctor wants to shove me on the sick list but I am against that unless they send me home or to the base for a bit.

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