Letters from the Western Front in WW1: Private Leonard Frank Lamb AIF from France to his Mother and Sister
The Western Front Diaries, by Jonathan King.
Published by Simon & Schuster Australia. Pymble, NSW. 2008.
Jonathan has approached his task of documenting the horrific battles, casualties, and death in the ugly, muddy landscape of the WW1 Western Front, by allowing individual Australians who fought, died, but many survived, to describe their experiences through their own words taken from diaries and surviving letters home to family, friends, sweethearts etc. Many of these letters reveal the writer's hopes and fears.
My wife Denise has a few letters written by her Uncle, Private Leonard Frank Lamb AIF from France to his Mother and Sister.
They could well have been included in Jonathan King's work had they been known to still exist.
These letters are now reproduced on AHOY in memory of Leonard who was killed on October 4th. in 1917.
LAMB, LEONARD FRANK
Regiment/Service:Australian Infantry, A.I.F.Unit Text:24th Bn.
Date of Death:04/10/1917
Additional information:Son of Mary Ann Bailey (formerly Lamb), and the late Robert Frederick Lamb. Native of York, Western Australia.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead Grave/Memorial Reference:Panel 7 - 17 - 23 - 25 - 27 - 29 - 31
Memorial:YPRES (MENIN GATE)
In Memory of Private LEONARD FRANK LAMB
4452, 24th Bn., Australian Infantry, A.I.F.
who died age 26
on 04 October 1917
Son of Mary Ann Bailey (formerly Lamb), and the late Robert Frederick Lamb. Native of York, Western Australia.
Remembered with honour.
YPRES (MENIN GATE) MEMORIAL.
Letter Number one. Somewhere in France. December 1916.
To Leonard's sister Marjorie.
My dear Marjorie,
I forget whether I have written to you from this joint or not but at any rate here goes.
I am having a pretty comfortable time at present living on the choicest cuts of Bully Beefa la fricassee & otherwise with an occasional addition of jam & cheese. It is nearly Christmas Day and I think turkey & goose will be off the menu this year. My domicile is an old stable, with mud walls and a thatched roof, but I have a blanket & plenty of straw so am able to sleep fairly warm. There is mud up to the knees everywhere here in fact, I scarcely ever bother to scrape it off, it is a waste of good time. I have not seen the sun for days, in fact if its not raining it is snowing so old sol does not get much of a hearing in these parts. Sunny France? It is almost impossible to buy anything in the way of luxuries to eat, occasionally some tinned fish, but the price charged is usually about three times the value.You cannot go wrong in knitting socks and woollen scarves for it is very cold here & all want warm things, beside the feet get wet so often the socks have to be changed, also there are little facilities for washing and none for drying so they do not last long. I remember as kids we used to shout " Last Home Lousy." I find now it does not make any difference for one gets ones share however hard one trys to avoid them, it is only possible to relieve oneself by a periodical hunt over a fire. Despite the adverse conditions everyone is in the best of spirits, nevertheless we are anxious for peace, for there is a longing for Australian shores again which are undoubtedly the best in the world. Much love to Mother, I hope she is well. I hope you like your new " Cop" it should be just the thing for you. Best Xmas wishes to all. Much love to yourself. Hope to hear from you soon.
Your Loving brother.
4452 Pte. L. F. Lamb.
Often get tobacco from the Australian Overseas Club, it is very acceptable as all will attest.
Letter number two. In France, January 1917.
To Leonard's Mother and Sister Marjorie.
My dear Mother & Marjorie,
Last time I wrote it was to say not to expect any mail for sometime but circumstances alter cases and I am able to get letters away much sooner than I expected. I got a touch of dysentry and we are out of the line for a day or two, but will be back before the week is out. Your post cards came along about Xmas time I was very pleased to hear again from you, nothing is more satisfying than a mail from home. Had a great Christmas perhaps, at last it neither rained nor snowed for the Festival day so that at least was a change. Our Christmas dinner did not consist of anything so rich as turkey or goose, but the cooks managed to, prepare us a fresh meat stew which was not half bad, especially flavoured with a little curry powder which one of the " Cobbers" happened to have in stock & we also managed to share a tin of plum pudding between four of us by way of desert, so we did not at any rate go hungry. Of course Fritz did not wish to appear mean at such a season, so he played Santa Claus & sent us over a few presents, but as we at least had no use for them so they were declined with thanks. One advantage of being down in the rest camp for a day or two is that I've been able to have a wash & a shave, the first for some weeks & I can tell you I looked pretty. You ought to see a fellow getting back to his dugout after his term of duty, about a month's growth of beard on, mud to the neck, bags round the legs instead of putees, a tin hat over the ears and a rifle, a pick and or shovel over the other, I know as much now about using these latter implements as the most expert navvy. One thing about soldiering a fellow gets plenty of variety and its not such a bad game after all, though I am anxious for the day when Fritz will quit and we shall return to dear old Australia. In all my rambling it is the best country I've struck and I do not think I'll ever leave it again. You could not possibly realize how well off you are at home until you had.......
Page 3 of this letter is unfortunately missing and so must end here.
Letter number three. France April 1917.
To Leonard's Sister Marjorie.
My dear Marjorie,
Your letter March 5th. came along today, quite record time for mail, the new address makes matters much simpler & greatly facilitates despatch. Today is Anzac Day & I've fairly busy time at present but all are hoping that peace is not far at hand for we are at any rate homesick. I have been taking a stroll through one of the villages that we have lately taken from the Hun, it is rather knocked about, but it is much better than some couple billeted in an old church one sleeping under the Atlar and the other on top of it with the Virgin as a hat and clothes rack. I visited the "Bosch" cemetery, they have some decent monuments to their Officers, some of which are taken off the French graves, effaced & re-inscribed with Hunnish inscriptions. I got your Xmas parcel alright & thank you very much, I acknowledged it in the letter before which I expect you have received long ere this at this life one never knows what is going to turn up the next day but I am looking forward to a good sleep tonight. My abode is a hole in the side of a road with a couple sheets of tin over the top, two blankets and a kerosine tin full of fire comprise the furniture, I tell you it is not at all too bad, you are having a great time sea bathing & I could do with some swimming now though the weather is a bit cold, oh by the way, the sun has shined three days running which is a record. Hope Mother is well, give her my love, glad to hear Basil is getting on alright at school keep him up to it, it will be worth a lot to him. I am feeling particularly well at the moment & hope you are up to concert pitch. Am writing to A Mary this mail. Had a letter from Sitter the other day, I shall write to her soon.
Letter number four. In France June 1917.
To Leonard's sister Marjorie.
My Dear Marjorie,
Our little holiday is fast coming to an end, for in a day or two we are moving back to the war zone once more. We have now had a month in this little village away from the sound of guns, in fact things have been so peaceful that I have nearly forgotten that a war is in progress. It has been a great spell after months of hard work, with nothing better to be seen than mud and shell holes. Not a blade of grass, not a green tree, in fact not a whole tree for they have all been shattered with shells. Here the locals are peacefully working in green fields all ablaze with flaming red poppies, the banks of the creeks, whose waters are clear & crystalline, are overgrown with pink and purple convolvuli & the fruit trees are in full blossom, moreover we are getting most beautiful sunshine weather. There is practically no night for the sun rises before 4 o'clock in the morning and it is not dark until 10.30 at night. Last week I had a day in the Capital City of the Somme, Amiens, it is nearly as large as Melbourne, though very old fashioned, narrow cobbled streets & quaint old fashioned buildings. Nearly all the business people in the City " comprez " a little English and one can buy almost anything ( at a French price ) which is, as I've long ago discovered, whatever they think you are mug enough to pay. I saw the Cathedral and several other places of interest and had a piece of grilled steak about 4 ounces in weight ( the first since leaving Australia ) for which I paid two & a half francs . We just got news of the big advance at Ypres & Hill 60, we thought we were going to be in that shove, but I expect the heads thought our Bullecourt stunt enough to last for a while anyway we are not yet fully reinforced. The latest " oil " direct from England " The end of the war in measurable distance " so says our Brigadeer General, I am just wondering they measure with telescopes or not. You should hear my French, I speak it quite easily now, but the Froggies have a lot of difficulty in understanding. I wish they would conform with my methods of pronounciation. There has been no mail from Australia lately, we are all waiting one anxiously for it is now overdue, but I expect will be here any time now. Expect you are beginning to get cold weather again. Hope Mother is well, Will write again sometime when able.
much love to Mother and self.
Letter number five. In France July 1917.
To Leonard's sister Marjorie.
My dear Marjorie,
I have not long to catch a mail which I have only just found out is going away so will have to write hurridly. I have written you quite a number of letters earlier but do not know what ones you are likely to receive for we have heard that some of the mails have been lost. No letters from Australia for a while & I am beginning to think that some letters have gone astray also. Received a parcel from you the other day, thanks very much, it contained just what I wanted. My tent cobbers helped me to demolish the edibles which were " tres-bon. " We are not in the line at present, but expect that soon we will re-visit the Hun. good weather & quiet times for a while so one has little to complain of. Hope all are well, much love to Mother and self. Must get this censored " touts-veet", ( comprez my french slang? )
Will write more when able.
Letter number six. In France August 1917.
To Leonard's sister Marjorie.
My dear Marjorie.
Like " Johnny Walker " still going strong, & things are not at all too bad, the weather on the whole is fairly decent, but of course we get our full issue of rain and one never actually expects to get home dry, no matter how brilliantly the sun may be shining early in the day. We are at present living in a two horsepower village & my particular home is part of a stable at the back of a public house, a horse, a pig, and a goat are some billet companions, but as they say here " Ca ne fait rein! C'est la Guerre, " though it would be much more pleasant if the horse would clean his share of the billet occas ionly and if the straw on which I sleep was a little less affected with fleas. By the way this stable is the most important part of the pub, the rest consists of a heap of manure, a kitchen in which are three or four glasses and a barrel of what looks like beer, but tastes more like vinegar water, which the old woman doles out. I have been seeing lots of the country per foot lately, & at present it looks " tres bon " the crops grow right up to the roadside, there being no fences at all. The Frog Cockies ( Australian slang for farmers, my comment ) are cutting the hay at present, they use something like a small scythe & a hook and manage to get through a few square yards daily if lucky, the rest of the fields are green with potatoes and beans. There is a stream not far from here where sometimes we put in a leisure houror go fishing for eels. Our tackle consists of a few threads of cotton and a bent needle. The other day I wanted to buy some fish hooks and my knowledge of French being limited I did not know the word for fish hooks so I drew a diagram of a stick figure fishing, and pointed to the hook for about ten minutes, and was finally handed a tin of sardines. I had to leave without my hooks.
Today is Sunday, have been to Mass this morning & the rest of the day is a holiday.
The old girl at the pub cooked us a feed of beans and Pommes de Terre for dinner which were a welcome addition to the stew & I have done my week's washing to wit, one pair of socks & a towel, which barring what I've got on, with the addition of an overcoat and a blanket complete the equipment of my suitcase. I do not think there is any more to write of. Hope you and Mother are well Best love to you both. I am writing to A Mary this mail. There has been no Australian mail for some time, but we expect some any day now.
Letter number seven. In France September 1917.
To Leonard's sister Marjorie.
My dear Marjorie,
Again I am able to write to you, but after eliminating those things to which the censor would object, there remains little to write of. I am once again in a new part of the country and of course all this means new scenery and objects to gaze upon but one has got so tired of these changes lately that I am afraid a lot of the novelty of view hunting has died down. I expect to be in Belgium again again soon though of course I do not make my own plans. The weather is still good & it has not got cold yet, though the days are shortening considerably. I am dwelling on some leave to England, 10 whole days of freedom & I hope my turn comes before it gets cold and wet. I am going to Scotland & intend to visit Edinburgh and Glasgow. No news from here, hope you and Mother are well, I am right up to concert pitch. I wrote to A Mary the other day.
Much love to Mother and self.
P.S. I think this is the first letter I have written in ink since coming here, but managed to strike a cobber with a fountain pen.
Letter number eight. Belgium. September 1917.
To Leonard's Mother and his sister Marjorie.
My dear Mother and Marjorie,
Once again I am discarding the much loved felt hat and wearing my tin one.
( as the steel helmets are called ) I cannot say that I appreciate the change very much, for not only is the tin lid, hot, heavy and uncomfortable, but it also designates the fact that we are once again in the war zone & and another spell in the line is imminent, but to quote the popular phrase here ( in fact about all the French most of know ) " Ca ne fait rein " for I expect that it is quite likely a little extra hard work now will mean all the less later on. In received quite a budget of mail today, I think it is the first full issue that has reached us for some time, perhaps we will fare better after this though because I understand that some new invention is being used which lessens the risks of the Submarine menace. I am glad you have a new job, particularly that it is more remunerative. You certainly hung on to the last one for a fair length of time, much longer than your brother used to manage, this seems to be the only one I cling to persistently, but I can neither get nor give myself the sack. I think I told you in my last letter that I was out on reserve, I mention that fate stuck to me for four of my pals with whom I should have been working shared a 9.2 between them, and got some nasty results, but " out of evil cometh good " for they'll have a good time in Blighty & miss the much dreaded Winter. I have just run out of ink, from now on its a new breed made by dissolving some indelible lead pencil in a drop of water, I am glad you are having a good time and enjoying yourself at the dances and other frivolities, I guess I'd like a trot round for a while. At any rate after the next trip into the line I reckon I'll be pretty right for Blighty leave where I am bound for Scotland, it will be " tres bon "
Have seen a few "YANKS " about lately, but not very many, I expect they will soon be fighting Fritz in full force.This ink is not up to much, I'll have to invent some new kind.
By the way, if you can slip an indelible pencil in some time I'll be very grateful, for the ones we have here refuse to write. Hope all is well, much love to you both.
That is the end of Leonard's letters, his unfailing sense of humour shines through them, never a complaint about the appaling conditions under which he fought.
The importance of mail from home is mentioned often, I can attest from being at sea all of WW2, just how morale was improved with the arrival of mail from the home front, and how we longed to have news of our loved ones in Australia.
I am notsure that in both WW1 and WW2 those in charge realised how very important mail was to those fighting far from home, and more might have been achieved to ensure regular deliveries to the various battle fronts.
His leave to England never came, and his longing to return to his beloved Australia was also never realised. In a short time from his last letter, on the 4th. of October 1917 he was sadly killed in action, he was only 26 years old. So many wasted lives of young men, a whole generation of Australians wiped out.
YPRES (MENIN GATE)