Friday, 3 March 2017

Postcards from "Somewhere in France" - Part Three

Following on from my post of 31 August 2016, we pick up again with Bert, a stretcher-bearer of the 7th Australian Field Ambulance, in France.
Source: Private Collection of Trisha and Murray Fielding
Somewhere in France
9th April 1916

Dearest Jean,
Just a few lines to let you know all is well. There was a mail in to day but there was none from you. I suppose I must miss sometimes. We are in the firing zone again but it is much better in many ways than in Gallipoli. Writing a long letter in a couple of days. Hope you received my other P.C. Remember me to Miss Cameron and all at Pilot Stn. Received a letter from Ernie yesterday. Sincerest wishes & best luck to all. Sincere affections to self.
Your loving friend

At the time of writing the postcard above, the 7th Field Ambulance was at Fort Rompu, near Erquinghem, west of Armentieres. They had relieved the 102nd Field Ambulance B.E.F. which included taking over advanced dressing stations at Bois Grenier and Port-a-Clous. Bert says on this postcard that they were in the firing zone again but that it was “much better in many ways than Gallipoli”.  Perhaps not for long though.

Lt. Col Huxtable* records in the Unit Diary held by the Australian War Memorial that on the 5th May heavy artillery bombardment “on one sector of our trenches” that lasted for about an hour, resulted in “between 50 and 60 casualties through from Bois Grenier”. According to Huxtable, most of the casualties were from the 20th Australian Infantry Battalion. The Unit Diary of the 20th records that this attack lasted two hours, and one officer was killed and several others wounded. In addition, 23 O.R. (other rank, or ordinary rank) were killed, and 75 O.R. were wounded.

Bert’s next postcard to Jean, sent while still at Fort Rompu, was brief.
Source: Private Collection of Trisha and Murray Fielding

On Active Service
May 14th 1916

Dear Jean,
Received your long letter today. Writing first opportunity. Pleased to hear all well at home. Remembrance and best wishes to all. Best love.
From Bert x

On the 20th May, after being subject to shelling themselves on the previous day, the 7th Field Ambulance commenced building bomb-proof shelters for patients, and trenches for personnel, in adjoining fields.

On the 8th June the fighting was close enough that Lt. Col. Huxtable received instructions from the 2nd Australian Division on a suggested course of action should the 7th Field Ambulance unit be attacked. These plans apparently included the need to construct rafts in case the bridges over the River Lys were destroyed.

Source: Private Collection of Trisha and Murray Fielding

On Active Service
Somewhere in France
June 20th 1916

Dear Jean,
Your letter of 2nd April last received a few days ago. Letter following first opportunity. Pleased to hear all well at home & enjoying life at its best. Looking forward to the piece of wedding cake. I suppose some of your own will be along soon. Ernie is now in France. Not met him yet. Best love & wishes.
From Bert

Bert’s mention of wedding cake was in reference to the wedding of Jean’s sister Gretta, who was married in Townsville on 1st April 1916. I am constantly surprised at Bert’s ability to sound upbeat in his correspondence with Jean. He wrote that he was pleased to hear that everyone at home was well and “enjoying life at its best”, when just a few days earlier, his unit had been subject to a gas attack from the direction of Armentieres, resulting in “considerable bronchial and conjunctival irritation” among the men.

Bert notes that: “Ernie is now in France”. He is referring to Ernie Price, who was Jean’s cousin. Ernie was also from Townsville and it’s possible that this is how Bert knew Jean – through Ernie. Bert often refers to Ernie in his postcards to Jean and I think this indicates that Ernie must have been an important link between them. A number of Ernie’s postcards to Jean also survive, such as the one pictured below. According to war service records, Ernie was in hospital with pleurisy while at Bulford, in England (the address on the postcard). There’s no mention of his illness on the postcard, but he does note that he received a letter from Bert.

Source: Private Collection of Trisha and Murray Fielding

Aug 29th 1916

Dear Jean,
I am very sorry if you did not receive any letters from me. I was ever so particular about one I wrote you when in Egypt. I got a letter from Bert on Sunday morning. He was well and about the only news in the letter was that the Australians were in the thick of it. He evidently gets your letters alright for he says he gets all the Townsville new per Pilot Station. This view shows a crescent of flats occupied by rather well-to-do people in Bath.
I remain Your affectionate cousin

In my next post, I’ll feature more postcards from Bert, along with Jean’s cousins Ernie, Oliver and Fred.

* Robert Beveridge Huxtable was another North Queenslander too, a surgeon from Charters Towers. 

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