Letters From the Front

Letters From the Front

Letters from Sittingbourne & Milton men to their friends & families back home.

http://www.pigstrough.co.uk/ww1/Images/Icons/BallOrangeLarge.gif   The last letter of Ernest Smith: 1914

http://www.pigstrough.co.uk/ww1/Images/Icons/BallOrangeLarge.gif   Letter from Private Thomas Stevens to Mr Mc Isaac, the Headmaster of Milton Council Schools: 1915

http://www.pigstrough.co.uk/ww1/Images/Icons/BallOrangeLarge.gif   Letter from Lance Corporal Walter James Wall: 1915

http://www.pigstrough.co.uk/ww1/Images/Icons/BallOrangeLarge.gif   Letter from Private William Jarrett: 1915

http://www.pigstrough.co.uk/ww1/Images/Icons/BallOrangeLarge.gif   Letter from Trooper Thomas Henry Clout: 1915

http://www.pigstrough.co.uk/ww1/Images/Icons/BallOrangeLarge.gif   Letter from Driver Henry Goatham: 1915

http://www.pigstrough.co.uk/ww1/Images/Icons/BallOrangeLarge.gif   Letter from Corporal Sydney George Hook: 1915

http://www.pigstrough.co.uk/ww1/Images/Icons/BallOrangeLarge.gif Letter from Captain Andrew Fosbraey: 1916

http://www.pigstrough.co.uk/ww1/Images/Icons/BallOrangeLarge.gif Letter from Private Adrian Tarrant: 1916

http://www.pigstrough.co.uk/ww1/Images/Icons/BallOrangeLarge.gif Letter from Sergeant Ernest John Gambell: 1918


Ernest Smith’s Last Letter

I am quite well and safe at present. We are having it rather quiet out here. The Germans are all down on their luck. The poor beggars are half starved and I can tell you it is getting rather cold out here just now. That makes it worse, as we don’t get feather beds to lay upon. We sleep in holes dug out on the road side in banks and under shelter of the trees with our clothes and boots on. I have not had a good night’s sleep since I left, and we don’t know what it is to take our boots off.

It takes nine or ten days for your letters to reach us. I like yours and the baby’s photograph very much and I keep taking it out of my pocket every chance I get to have a look at our darling boy. I am looking forward to the time to nurse him again and very shortly too, as this affair can’t last a month longer. It is getting nearer towards peace every day, and the sooner the better, as I am longing for a change of food. Don’t be surprised if you see me eat extraordinarily when I arrive home – which I hope to, with God’s help.’

Ernest (shown standing in the picture below) was born in April 1887. He was the son of Frederick and Agnes; and he started his early life in Faversham workhouse, spending many years there with his brother Frederick and two sisters Minnie and Rhoda. He was 5′ 4″ tall with grey eyes and dark brown hair, and had been working as a labourer in Faversham, when he enlisted in Canterbury on 1st March 1904. He served as a Private in The Buffs until his period of service ended. He then worked in Lloyd’s Paper Mill, he married Lily and had a son called Ernest. He was called up at the start of the war and went to Fermoy to train with his old regiment. He was killed in action in France, aged 27, on 8th October 1914. He is remembered on the la Ferte-Sous-Jouarre and Milton town Memorials.

Ernest Smith 5 (2).jpg


An Old Milton Schoolboy In The Trenches

Private Thomas Stevens, of B Company 6th Buffs, writes to his old Headmaster:

Dear Mr McIsaac:-

We are still in the trenches doing our best. The part of French line we hold now is on the outskirts of a large wood, and this wood is nothing else but graves, there were a good number of bodies lying about not buried when we took over these trenches from a Warwickshire Regiment, which laid between two firing lines, but we managed to get rid of these during the night. The Germans have taken this wood four times from us since the war started. But I think it is strongly in our possession now. You can find any amount of rifles, equipment and military stuff lying about rotting away, so you can guess there are thousands of lives lost here. The trees have had all their branches and tops knocked off with shells, and there is not one standing that has not at least a hundred bullet holes in its trunk. When the sun comes out a bit strong the smell is awful and the water is not fit to wash in.

The worst thing we have to beware of are the snipers. They are dead shots. They get into old tree trunks and if they see anyone there is not much chance of them missing you. We have not had many casualties yet. Yet we had three sergeants wounded and two killed, and four out of those five were hit by snipers. The marvellous thing about this wood is the birds still keep here and build their nests in the bits of trees. We have to do another four days here and then we get relieved, and have three days in a town for washing our clothes and to have a bath and clean up and by the time this comes it will be like having Christmas holidays. We have been out here a month now and the time passes so quickly it seems no more than a fortnight. We hope to make progress soon by the look of things. That is if the wind keeps in our favour, because you know yourself as soon as the wind changes we can expect that horrible gas, but whatever they use they will never win. So I will now close with best respects to all. All the old boys are doing well and they send their best respects to you and all.

We have just finished another eight days in the firing line and are now having a bit of a rest in the reserve for eight days. We have shifted from the wood to a more open place. We did not have a bad time during our eight days, but I am sorry to say we lost five men and got a few wounded in our company. We also had a few wounded by a mine blown up in our line companies. When this happened I was away burying two of our comrades, but even then the Germans could not let us be. They put their machine gun on us and we had to lie down. We wait until dark now before we bury anyone.

The Germans think they are going to break through our lines before long, but we don’t think anything of the sort, unless we are all asleep when they come, and I don’t think we shall be. It is surprising how muddy the place gets when it rains. I can see how dreadful it was for our troops during the winter campaign. I hope we shall finish it before next winter. I think the artillery in this division is too good for the Germans. They keep sending shell over towards where they think they are. Well I think I have told you all the news this time, so will close with best respects to all.

PS – Lance-Corporal W Wall and A Beeching ask me to thank you and the boys for sending the cigarettes.’

Thomas was born on 1st August 1896, and was baptised in Milton on 21st August that year. He was the son of Thomas, a stoker in the paper mill, and Harriett; and his siblings were Annie, Silis, Horace, Leonard, Arthur and Alfred. In 1911 he was living with his family in Faith Street, and was working as an assistant in a brick yard. After the war he married Hilda Copping in 1922, and their son, Thomas, was born on 16th May 1923. By 1939 they were living in Tonge Road, and he was working as a brick field labourer. Thomas died in the summer of 1976.


Brave Local Lads

Lance Corporal Walter James Wall, of The Buffs, wrote to the East Kent Gazette in October 1915:

Our Battalion went into action on Wednesday last. We have been out at the front since June 1st. Having been in the trenches for 79 days at a stretch, without a rest. We quickly moved to another part of the lines and witnessed the finishing of one of the greatest battles of this war. Our Division relieved the boys who took part in the great battle, all heroes they were. We were then at a place where they are “strafing” every day. After being in the firing trench for five days we were drawn back as reserves for three days.

On the 13th, the day of our charge, we got the order to pack our small kit up and put our names on them. At 11 o’clock we got the order to go up into the shell trenches. Then the artillery starts its work, right to the second at 12 o’clock. It was like hell let loose for the whole two hours that the bombardment lasted. Shells were dropping in front and behind our trench, but luck was with us, and they couldn’t drop them in our trench.

Then our boys got the order to charge, and they went over as men, and those that fell in the attempt died like heroes. Kent can always be proud to think that her County men are such heroes. At five o’clock it quietened down, and at dusk we began our errand of mercy, collecting the wounded.

We were relieved on the morning of the 14th instant, and it was then that we carried our wounded down to the advanced dressing station. They had been laying in trenches for hours, and stood the punishment very bravely. It was at the advanced dressing station that we saw the first R.A.M.C men, about three miles behind the firing line.

We get the “Gazette” here nearly every week, and it cheers us up to get news from our native town. C Denne from Sittingbourne was “gassed” by a shell, but he is getting on well as far as we know. I will close now, with remembrances from all the Sittingbourne lads.

PS – I have just met a few boys from Sittingbourne in our second Battalion. They are going on well, having got through their battle of three weeks ago.’

Walter was born in Sittingbourne on 11th July 1896, the son of Arthur, a brickfield labourer, and Harriett (who died when he was a child). He lived in Borden Lane with them and his siblings, Ellen, Ada, Edith, Lizzie, William and Alfred. He had been working as a carpenter’s labourer when he joined The Buffs on 22nd August 1914. He was promoted to Lance Corporal on 4th December 1914, and joined the British Expeditionary Force on 1st June 1915. He became a Corporal in February 1916, and was wounded twice, in 1916 and 1917. He was Mentioned in Dispatches for Gallant and Distinguished Conduct; and was awarded the Military Medal, which was presented to him at Dover on 8th June 1918. By the time he was discharged on 27th November 1918, as no longer physically fit for service, he held the rank of Sergeant. He was awarded a pension of 16/3d a week for a year.

He married Ivy May Smith in August 1920, and they emigrated to Canada that year. He was working as a painter in Toronto, when he applied to live in the United States in 1949. His married daughter, Thelma, was living there, as was William Wall. At that time he was 5’8″ tall with brown hair and blue eyes. He was living in Wittier, Los Angeles, when he applied to be a naturalized American citizen in 1989. Walter died, aged 96, on 3rd August 1992.


A Milton Territorial at Aden

A letter from Private William Jarrett, of the 4th Buffs, written in autumn 1915.

‘I am still in the land of the living, and can also hear the Turks’ guns at times when they are sullenly firing, but we are well out of their reach except when they advance. The Buffs went in one scrap the other day, but came out alright, except for one or two that had a tap of the sun. One poor chap had to be held down; he was properly mad. Otherwise the Battalion came out fit. It is nice to see the Turks’ shells burst; they generally burst one hundred feet in the air, so are perfectly harmless. They are absolutely rotten shots with the artillery, but are better with the rifles. The Battalion went into action again the day before yesterday (September 25th), and caught it rather hot, losing six chaps with the heat stroke and one with wounds.

First of all we started from ……… at half-past three, and came in contact with the enemy about eight o’clock, and drove them from seven to ten miles right through a village. We had been there about an hour-and-a-half, when the Turks pulled themselves together and started shelling us again; shrapnel was bursting all round us, but rather high up. They advanced on to the village again, and played on us with machine-gun fire. It was pretty thick there for a time. We were ordered to retire again, and that just about done us up. Coming back in the heat of the day we lost one Private, who died from wounds, two Sergeants, and three Privates with heat stroke. One died in hospital later. Poor chaps; it is shocking to see them; they go properly mad, and turn blue. This is the second time we have been in action.’

William was born in Strood on 9th April 1896, and was baptised at the Methodist church there on 4th June that year. He was the son of William, a mariner, and Alice; and in 1901 was living in Hythe Road with them, his siblings Arthur and Georgina, and his mother’s sister Emmeline Ost. He joined The Buffs on 21st May 1914, and went to India with them as a Private. Between 5th August 1915 and 4th February 1916 he served in Aden. By 1918 he was attached to the Signals Company of the Royal Engineers; and was discharged as medically unfit for military service, because of malaria, in September that year. He was awarded a pension of 5/6d a week; and returned to Sittingbourne to work as a shipwright. No other records of him have been found, but it is likely that he died in 1968, aged 72.


A Milton Lad in Gallipoli

A letter from Trooper Thomas Henry Clout,

of the Royal East Kent Mounted Rifles,

writing in November 1915.

‘On 9th November we had a time our Troop will remember. We had two shells burst over our head, causing three casualties. A Corporal of the Sussex Yeomanry was killed outright, and Sergeant Dalton, of Cellar Hill, Greenstreet, died of wounds the following day; and a Trooper had a shrapnel bullet through his thigh. He is going on all right as far as I know. It was a wonder more of us were not hit.

We had a ‘pleasant’ time on the 16th. I think that practically everyone was ‘fed up’ for the night with a thunderstorm which wreaked vengeance upon us. The thunder was the loudest I have ever heard, the lightning the bluest, and the raindrops the biggest. It came down on us in all its glory. After about ten minutes of it the gully in which we were bivouacked was absolutely a roaring torrent, taking with it stores and absolutely everything that was in its way. Dug-outs were flooded out.

My chum and I had a lively time, for the water from the hillside was running under our waterproof covering right on to us as we lay in the blankets. Everything was absolutely saturated. I think I am safe in saying that half of us were washed out for the time being. Our cooks turned out like a fire brigade, and with the aid of petrol or paraffin made a fire, where we could warm ourselves, and also have a decent drink of tea that they made for our benefit. The storm only lasted thirty minutes at the most, and then the moon shone as bright as day. We get some lovely moonlight nights out here.

You ought to have been here last night. We had a candle burning in our kaboosh, and that is a rare occurrence here, for they are scarce. There were chocolates, oranges, chestnuts, condensed milk, a mouth organ, and a fife on the go. We thought, with such a variety, that we were sitting down to a party. Farthing candles are a penny and three-halfpence out here. Can’t get them cheaper. But we are not living at home, and in a land of plenty, so must not grumble.’

Thomas was born on 3rd November 1894, the son of George a labourer in the paper mill, and Caroline. His siblings were George, Nellie, Charles, Mabel, Donald and Daisy; and in 1911 he was living with his family in Chalkwell Road and working as an assistant dryerman at the paper mill. Before the war he attended the bible class at the Milton Congregational Church. He enlisted in early 1915, and later in the war transferred to The Buffs.

He married Lily Cruttenden in 1919 and they went to Australia. They returned in 1923 and their son, Vallance was born in 1924. In 1939 they were living in Detling where Thomas was working as an assistant district manager for an assurance company. He died in Bearsted on 31st October 1982, aged 77.

thomas henry clout.jpg

The Sergeant Dalton, whose death was mentioned in the letter, was Malcolm Philip Dalton. He was born in Lynsted in 1886, the son of Philip, a farmer at Cellar Hill, and Eliza; and he had a brother Frederick and two sisters, Cecilia and Mary. He enlisted in Faversham and served as a Sergeant in the Royal West Kent Mounted Rifles. He was killed in action, aged 29, in Gallipoli on 9th November 1915. He was buried in the Pink Farm Cemetery, Helles, and left £235 15/6d to his mother.


A Sittingbourne Artilleryman in a Hot Corner

A letter from Driver Henry Goatham, of the Royal Field Artillery, written in late 1915.

‘We are round Ypres now, and I can tell you it’s hot stuff, as the Germans held it for some time, and they know every road and place. They don’t half let us have it, always shelling us with their big guns, the shells weighing 18lbs to a ton. So you can bet what it is like. When the shells burst they have in them about 200 or 300 lead bullets about the size of a marble which fly about in all directions for 100 yards or more, and the shell, which is iron, splits into little bits, with edges like razors, which if they hit you, would cut you to pieces. I have a couple of pieces of a German shell which killed two men. I am bringing them home, if I ever reach there,

I also have some bullets which I got off a German, when we started advancing after the retirement from Mons. We used to see some terrible sights. I have seen the bodies of little children who were bayonetted lying about the streets. It was awful.

While I am writing this the guns are going at it for all they are worth. The Germans have just started bombarding, so I must hurry up, as it will mean another gallop through it, to take ammunition to the guns.’

Henry, who was known as Harry, did survive the war. He had been born in Sittingbourne on 15th January 1891. In 1901 he was living with his parents, Henry and Rose; his siblings, Gertrude, Mabel and Frederick; and Rose’s children, Charles and Frank Coleman. It was to Frank Coleman, who served in the Air Service, that he wrote the letter. By 1911 Harry was already serving in the Royal Field Artillery, and was based at Colchester. After the war he married Ethel Maylum in 1923, and in 1939 they were living on the London Road, Sittingbourne, and he was working as a drain layer, which was heavy manual work.


A British Gas Attack and Christmas in France

A letter from Corporal Sydney George Hook, of The 6th Buffs, sent in December 1915.

‘We spent four days in the trenches – the worst we have been in yet. It was in a marshy district, and there had been heavy rains for several weeks previously. Consequently the communication trenches were almost full of water, so that we had to go right up to the fire trench, over the open ground – and of course could only do this in the dark; and then had to be very careful, as the enemy used to sweep the road with a machine gun. But we were very fortunate in having only two casualties in our Company.

The original fire trench had water in it, to a depth of about 3ft., and in places more; so our troops had dropped back to the reserve trench 40 or 50 yards to the rear. In the best parts of the original trench a series of advanced posts were formed, each manned by a sentry group of five or six men, with an NCO. I had charge of one of these posts, which we call ‘islands’, and while there we had a fine view of a gas attack by our people, on the right of our position.

The first thing that we heard was the rapid fire, and machine guns then followed. The noise of the bursting bombs -both smoke and fire bombs were used – was terrific; and by the light of the latter we could see the dense clouds of gas rolling towards the German lines. Then the artillery on both sides, which had been rather noisy all day, increased its activity, and the shrapnel bursting in the air, combined with the various coloured star lights, made quite a fine firework display.

But we were soon reminded that it was not merely for our amusement, when the enemy’s guns began to play on our part of the line, and for about an hour we had rather an uncomfortable time. But, fortunately, no-one was seriously hurt, and things were all quiet again in about two hours’ time. We have since heard that this was only a dummy attack, to draw the enemy’s attention, while the French were at work; and we are told that they bagged about 1,200 prisoners the same night.

The last few days we have spent in a big town, billeted in a large tobacco factory, and today we had a big Christmas dinner – roast beef and Christmas pudding, a jolly good dinner in fact; and tonight George (Sergeant George Dungey) and I have been to a Christmas pantomime given by members of the Divisional Concert Party.’

Sydney was born in Sittingbourne on 2nd February 1893, the son of George, a shipwright, and Elizabeth. His siblings were Ernest, Lucy, Amy, Percy and Harold; he was living with his family in William Street in 1901 and in West Lane in 1911. By then he was a carpenter’s apprentice; and when he enlisted on 25th August 1914 he was working as a shipwright for Smeed Dean. He was 5′ 5″ tall, and had dark brown hair and brown eyes. He was promoted to Lance Corporal in December 1914, and went to France in June 1915. He became a Corporal in October 1915, and a Sergeant in October 1916. He was wounded in April 1918 and spent the rest of the war in England. When he was demobilised in April 1919 he was a Company Quarter Master Sergeant. He married Mabel Gandon in 1920; and in 1939 they were living at Fox Hill, and he was working as a carpenter/joiner. He died on 16th May 1960, aged 67, and left over £1,700 to his wife in his will.

Ernest Hook.JPGHis brother Ernest also served in The Buffs during the war. He had attended Holy Trinity Boys’ School and sang in the Congregational Church Choir. He worked on the clerical staff at Sittingbourne Co-op before he enlisted. He was a Corporal, and on 20th November 1917, he took part in the big push which broke the Hindenburg Line at Cambrai. During the battle he received severe bullet wounds in his thigh from machine gun fire and lay in the open for several hours before being taken to hospital. Sydney got leave from the front to be with him. He said that he was quite unconscious at the end and that the doctors told him that, although officially the cause of death was from haemorrhage, the real cause of death was poisoning, resulting from wounds, but that it was impossible to amputate his leg to stop the poison from getting into his system, because of his extreme weakness caused by so much loss of blood. Ernest died, aged 21, on 27th December 1917, and was buried in Étaples Military Cemetery. He is remembered on the Sittingbourne Town Memorial.

Sydney’s friend, George Dungey, whom he mentioned in his letter, was born in Sittingbourne in 1892. He was the son of John Thomas, a jobbing gardener, and Mary, and in 1911 was working as a warehouseman at the cement works. Like Sydney he attended the Sittingbourne Congregational Church, and sang in the choir there. He was 23 years old, and fighting in Flanders, when he was shot by a German sniper on 18th March 1916. He was buried in the trench where he fell, and his sister Maria Jarrett got his pay and war gratuity. He is remembered on the Loos and Milton Town Memorials.


A Veteran in Africa

A letter from Captain Andrew Fosbraey

in late 1916.

‘We have been on short rations for over two months, sometimes simply living on corn and sweet potatoes, but we are doing most excellent work, although we have encountered a great deal of resistance and hardships, yet we continue to drive the Huns back. They have suffered very heavily in all our fights. We have also had some fairly heavy casualties, but we move on and on.

We are now 250 miles inside their country, and you cannot imagine the difficulties. We are on the equator, and the heat is terrific, 160 to 180 degrees in the sun, all our provisions, material, stores etc, have had to be carried by porters, for there are no railways the route we have come.

There are plenty of big game – lions, leopards, hyenas, zebras, giraffes, rhinos, hippos, wild dogs, ostriches, wild boards, buck of all description from buffalo to gazelle; so we get meat in plenty, although it’s hard to get anything else with it. I have not seen a bit of bread for over three months; sometimes we get a little flour, and we mix it up with water and make chupattees, i.e. boil them in fat; biscuits (Army) we have not had since we left our territory, so you can guess what a welcome surprise your parcel gave me.

I am Brigade Signals Officer to General Van Deventer, on whose staff I am. I am in charge of all visual signalling, telegraphs, field telephones, wireless, and despatch riders, and I have a very busy time of it. I have had a few narrow shaves, but have come out very fortunate. Three of my horses have been shot, while I was not even touched.

We move with just what we can carry on our horses – not with cases of beer, whisky, liquors, chairs and tables, and hosts of other things. Our bed is mother earth, our liquor, water or coffee, when we can get it. We all look a scarecrow lot, for we are all in rags; but that does not interfere with our fighting. However, I am keeping in fairly good health; the fever is bad, but I am almost salted now. I don’t expect to get off scot free though. This is an awful country to fight in; the bush is so thick and dense that at all times we are almost on top of each other before we know it. There are some huge snakes, about 20 feet long, and all sorts of reptiles, but we are used to them, and they don’t trouble us very much.

I have been very fortunate as regards casualties, considering that my men have such dangerous work – only one killed and fourteen wounded; several died from fever and dysentery. Oh, to be amongst the cherries once more; I have not seen any since I was home last, in 1909.’

Andrew David Fosbraey was born in Borden in 1875, and in 1891 was living with his family in Sittingbourne. He was the son of James, a brickfield worker, and Sarah; and his siblings were Alfred, Samuel, Henry, Stephen, George, Lily, David and Archibald. Before he joined the Royal Engineers in 1894, he had worked as a telegraph lineman attached to the staff at Sittingbourne station. He married Helena Mary Marshall in 1897, and they had three children, Helena, Muriel and Joyce. He fought in the Boer War, and was a Sergeant Major when his service ended. He stayed on in South Africa – returning to Sittingbourne for a visit in 1909.


Milton Cavalryman with the Indian Troops

Extracts from letter sent by Private Adrian Tarrant of the Household Cavalry, late 1916.

November 28th: I suppose you are wondering what it is like in the firing line, and the kind of work upon which I am engaged. Well we are playing the part of infantrymen, being in the trenches. The trenches are large earthworks with loopholes, and of course through these we fire. We have to be very cautious, always ready to bob down when a gun goes off; but it is such quick work that before we can duck the bullets are gone. When we arrived on the trenches it was freezing hard, and it took us all our time to knock some feeling into our feet; just before sunrise a thaw set in, and believe me, it was very lovely; now the troops are up to their eyebrows in mud.

I have seen some Germans at last. A few men rushed a German trench, and the German officer in charge threw down his sword and ordered his men not to shoot, and the result was – 50 German prisoners. You ought to have seen these German soldiers, mere lads most of them, and they were so glad to have been captured. The prisoners had formerly been told by their officers that the English shoot prisoners instantly, and their joy was great when they found there was no truth in that statement.

Working with us are the Highland Regiments, who have done such splendid work. The Germans fairly shake at the sight of the men in kilts. You have read in the newspapers all about the Germans destroying and pillaging villages etc. It is quite true, because we have passed through villages and seen the ruins. In one large village there was a Roman Catholic School, one part of which was shattered with shells, and the other had been burned down. Then I have seen churches and other religious places set on fire. We keep moving about a few miles at a time, but why I cannot tell.

December 11th: You cannot imagine what we have been doing since our arrival at the front. We were simply pushed right to it. Our horses did not see us for days at a time. In fact, we nearly forgot that we were cavalrymen. I remember once we had just come in from the trenches, and proceeded to have a snack round the camp fire, when the order was given to turn out. Away went our food; over our shoulders we slung our packs, and off we went. It was freezing hard that night, and continued for some time; but now reinforcements have arrived; we are again with our dumb chums, and can call ourselves one more horse soldiers.

There has been a great deal said about the native troops in the leading daily papers. The Ghurkas have done splendid fire work. For instance, two Germans caught one Ghurka soldier; they gave him a kick and told him to get out of it; but this Ghurka came back with two German heads! I should like you to see these smiling Ghurkas; they are rarely more than 5ft high, but they can fight.

Our food is getting better than ever, and there is always more than enough. We are a happy crowd of men. Our officers are splendid, and a soldier could not wish to be better treated than at present, under such circumstances. We have not had any snow or ice for about a week past, but the rain is coming down steadily. It is much warmer now, and I hope it will continue for some time.’

Adrian Joseph Tarrant was born in Milton on 1st September 1889. He was the son of Joseph, a clerk at the paper mill, and Henrietta; and his siblings (in 1901) were Henrietta, Josephine, Joseph and Vera. He was in India, attached to the Military Hospital in Secunderabad, when the war started, and he joined the Cavalry of the Indian Expeditionary Force. He married Virginia Mary Rusted in 1928, and they had a daughter, Virginia Vera Mabel, on 26th February 1931. In 1939 he was living in Westlands Avenue, Sittingbourne, and working as a checker at the paper mill; his wife and daughter were living in Ashford. His wife died in 1952; and when he died on 14th January 1953, he left nearly £750 to his daughter.


A Sittingbourne Soldier Released from Germany

A letter from Sergeant Ernest John Gambell

of the Coldstream Guards.

In March 1918, Ernest wrote to thank those who had sent parcels to prisoners of war in Germany; and he described the conditions he had suffered.

‘What the parcels meant to prisoners in Germany can scarcely be realised by the people at home, the only real way of expressing their value is to term them “Existence”. Had we at any time, have had to rely on the food supplied by the Huns there would be very few alive to tell the tale. For a good part of my captivity I was fairly fortunate, but the first and last six months were indescribable. The accommodation was such that a respectable English pig would refuse to live in it; the camp itself was absolutely devoid of any means of drainage or sanitation in any respect. Herded together in a barrack closely resembling sardines in a tin, two blankets of about the same thickness as shawls, and an old sacking bed containing some sort of grass, which no animal would eat (that was the reason we got it).’

In a letter written earlier in the war from the camp where he was held, in Dulmen, Westphalia, he said that: ‘We have had a long and dreary winter, freezing hard and bitterly cold day after day’.

Ernest was born in Sittingbourne in 1890, the son of Jesse, a carrier, and Ellen. His siblings were Hilda, Albert, May and Victor; and he had left home before 1911. He joined the British Expeditionary Force on 12th August 1914; so was almost certainly serving in the army before the war. He spent much of the war as a prisoner in Germany; and died, aged 55, in 1946.


Letters from other soldiers are included in the book ‘A Town at War’