18.05.1917: Bernard’s Lecture

Transcription:

 

~ No.8 Squadron ~

18 May

to 21 May

 

Dear old Dad

 

Wilt do slight job for me? I enclose

cheque for £1. for Johnny Morgan’s licence. Thanks

v. much if you will. The above is symbolical

of a dose of leave which I am expecting shortly.

Bill, a brother flight C.O., goes early this next

week, then Lewis, one of my pilots the week after,

and I go next. What ‘opes? {sic} I will probably

be home for my birthday so tell Mary with

suitable messages from me to have a dish of…

 

…cake handy to celebrate that most auspicious

occasion. Will you be settled in the house

I wonder? You had better get a spare house

for Vins’ collection because I am bringing a few

things with me. There is a special Routine Order

out about taking “Tanks” away as souvenirs so

I may not be able to smuggle one home!!

Dear old Eddy. He came over in a tender

a few days ago with a party from his flight

to see the war, and gather souvenirs thereof.

So we “Cooks Toured” him around Telegraph

Hill, and, Beaucourt etc, and filled the tenders

with rubbish of all sorts. They enjoyed themselves…

 

…hugely, and were delighted with the

shell bursts, & gunfire. I was most

amused because these things just bore me

stiff these days. Eddy tells me ‘mongst {sic}

other things that Johnny Milne is under arrest

for being senior officer present at a drunken

orgie held in his squadron. Some shit of a civvy {sic}

fellow reported him to the “War House”.

 

Eddy also tells me rather ruefully that he hasn’t

heard from you for over nine weeks. Of course

I know you are jolly busy, but you might dash

him off a line instead of one of mine sometimes.

I told him you only wrote to me about once a

fortnight, and trusted Peggy to give him news of

you. Anyway that cheered him up. You know any…

 

…moment you might loose him, he is doing the

most wonderful work which I can never make

anybody athome {sic} understand because they live in

a different atmosphere. It is equivalent to flying

from Coventry to Manchester photographing, or bombing,

there, and coming back every day. You are being

shelled all the way and chivvied by fast scouts

who belt lead at you all the time. Every now

and then your pals of either side of you burst

into sheets of flames, and pitching forward dive

to earth at frightful speed attaining perhaps

500 miles per hour before striking the earth some

5 miles below. What sort of a nerve has the

fellow got to stick this sort of thing, and he is

so devilish cheery too? It hasn’t’ taken any effect

on him at all. You bred a man when you

brought that old lad up let me tell you…

 

…Hows that for a lecture now? Pretty good

effort what? Here’s some more. About our

casualities {sic}. I haven’t said much in this direction

have I.? But we have had some and pretty

heavy too. Somebody comes down an hour before

dark, and reports a good shoot. A couple of

Huns driven off etc, he also reports seeing a

machine of our squadron attacked, and sent down

in flames. Off I rush to the ‘drome. “How many

have you got out Jack?” “Mine are all in old

man but “C” flight has one out still.” I have one

out myself so I wait. Presently the drowning of

an engine, and a machine goes by. One of 51’s

says somebody. “Get the flames out”, howls the…

 

…“orderly dog”, and I keep myself quiet by

firing key lights and rockets, to help one of

those two home – the lucky one – . Atlast [sic]

when everything is becoming blotted out, the drive

of an engine and somebody swoops down, & lands

——-   Blue wheels —– mine are red ——- so

poor old Bill, & Mike are gone this time ————–.

I order the empty waiting hanger to be closed

down, and go into a sad little mess with

two vacant places. Somebody says he saw the

scrap. “Old Bill & Mike they put up a damn fine

fight but the Huns were too numerous & fast

for them.” A message on the ‘phone and we

despatch a party to bring them in. And next

morning we go and salute at the grease-side…

 

…Led by the C.O. himself. That’s all.

This morning I was up, and watching some machines

dodging “archie”. Suddenly a flare, and something

like a comet rushed earthward. I looked the

other way, & tried to draw my obscure attention

to an imaginary machine in the other direction.

I won’t say any more on that subject. I only

broached it because it seems people athome [sic] are

getting low spirited about things in general.

Chiefly I suspect because they are getting their

little luxuries cut off. But if we can keep

cheerful out here ‘midst the above happening

cant those at home do the same? If spirits drop

athome [sic] now, after all these months of sacrifice

and work, and they want to fix up a peace now…

 

…that we have the end almost in sight, or perhaps

I should say now that the beginning of the last stage has

arrived, of what avail the huge loss of life

in the past three years?

 

You read your newspapers, and hear

about a lot of fights up and down, the line. When

casualities {sic} are big, or when a village capture

is reported you say “we’ve won a big battle.”

Or “we’ve broken through.” Then nothing further

happens for some days, or maybe weeks, and you

grow impatient, then dispirited, and say

“we can’t win it’s no good.” “we’ll never break

through.” All the time everyone is working at

fever heat out here, & each one of those seemingly…

 

…isolated fights in a very important part of

one large plan which takes months to

materialise. You want to take a position with

the idea of breaking through, there is another to

the north perhaps commanding that position so

that must be taken too, and so on. All the

ground has to be photographed by us, batteries

knocked out, communication trenches registered

on, by certain batteries told off to block them

on the appointed day. When it is taken that

position must be held, then off go the guns,

& are massed somewhere else for the next bit.

Perhaps the enemy persist in counter attacks.

Consequently delay, we have to keep troops &

guns there. And again come rumours of impatience…

 

…from home. It is all very like a game of

chess. Continued checkmating and counter moves.

We are now superior in “heavy pieces”.

All that aerial offensive was not merely

rivalry between the opposing air services. It

was a definite attempt to obtain aerial

observation. As it is now it is the Hun who

daren’t move about men the line by daylight

and who has to submit to having his rail-heads,

stores, & billets bombed at our pleasure. And

if he fires his guns by day he knows perfectly well

their position will be disclosed to the waiting

airmen who atonce {sic} direct counter fire & photograph

them too. The Hun is playing a very wily…

 

…game. He knows he can’t hold out against

us so he keeps retiring on “switch” lines

and hopes to tire us out before we swamp

him finally. This shows roughly what I

 

(sketch)

 

mean by switch lines. Ofcourse {sic} he is following out

this theory in detail, round small works as well as

large ones. I wonder if this letter will be

of interest to you. You might ask questions about

things that seem puzzling in the papers, and, if I

can, I will endeavour to answer them.

 

This seems to be a pretty good dose of letter…

 

…and has occupied several days in the writing

so you must excuse its being a bit

disjointed in parts. Cheer away. Best

love. See you soon.

Bernard

 On hearing news that his father has not written to his brother Eddy in over nine weeks Bernard grows frustrated with those on the home front.

Bernard hammers home to his father that at any moment he could lose his sons. He expresses his resentment of those at home having their spirits lifted and deflated so easily at the lack of news despite the pace at which those on the front lines are constantly working. For the first time Bernard tells his father about the huge losses and casualties they have faced.

Often families would not be told of the deaths and casualties that occurred on the front lines, or they would be censored to keep morale high back home. Letters could reach home in as little as two days from the front lines and the immediacy of letter writing during the war was a vital morale booster as well as a window into the thoughts and feelings of the servicemen.

 

 

 

Bernard Rice

Bernard Rice

When war began Bernard Curtis Rice was an apprentice with the Daimler Car Company. On 7 August 1914 he and his brother drove from the factory in Coventry to Avonmouth, where they joined the Army Service Corps (ASC), Britain’s army transport unit.

Bernard served in France and Flanders as a motor cyclist from 15 August 1914.
On 27 August 1915 Bernard joined the RFC as a Second Lieutenant. He became an Observer and later a Pilot, flying on artillery observation or spotting missions with Nos. 2 and 8 Squadron.


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Bernard Rice