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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

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Christian Auer

World War I

100. 2nd Lieutenant J. Macleod, 1915

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1When news of the war broke out in Scotland it was greeted with enthusiasm and thousands of young men volunteered to take part in what they thought would be an adventure. Few of them realised at the time that enlistment was a dangerous undertaking—a quarter of them would not come back alive. The following is an extract of a letter written by J. Macleod, who was 2nd Lieutenant in the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders.

2Lyn Macdonald, Voices and Images of the Great War, London: Michael Joseph, 1988, p. 67-68.

3 April 1915

Many happy returns of the day! By this time next year, I hope to be a peaceful and irresponsible undergraduate again, and then I will be able to buy you a suitable present. There are signs now that the war will soon be over. Could you arrange with Mr Spens to let me have my old rooms at College next October if all goes well?

Today is Easter and we are preparing to go into the new trenches tonight. They are much better than our old ones.

Talking about Easter, our Padre is of the Established Church of Scotland. He is a splendid fellow, and as he has never seen Cambridge, I asked him to come and stay with us after the war.

Thank you very much for the sweets, which arrived here where we are at rest. They were most pleasant to the palate. This warfare makes the most promising young man (me) into a barefaced glutton. Where I am there are many cafes and my figure is getting more convex. The sweets were very choice, and the shortbread helped considerably to distend some of us. My false tooth struck from overwork the day before yesterday, and fell with a loud crash on to my dessert plate at dinner. Luckily this place has an Army dentist, and now we are again prepared to tackle any meal. I score in the matter of meals, for as Machine-Gun Officer I feed at Battalion Headquarters where we have a cook and can get warm food on coke fires. Thank you very much for the parcel containing the cake from Matthews’, cream cheese, etc. The cake and cheese were both very good, and did not long grace the Mess, because they disappeared rapidly. Of course, home-made cakes are really the best of all! If the cheese was not too expensive, it would be worth sending another. Oh, and please do not send Punch any more, because nearly everyone else has copies […].

The six shirts came today, and the Section were very pleased with them. They raffled them among themselves. They do not need any more shirts just now, but would like some more cigarettes—not tobacco as there are only two pipe smokers in the Section, and they get more than they can smoke from the remainder of the Section.

Our life is not too strenuous; we have a twelve-day tour of duty, two days in the trenches, and two out, two in, two out etc, and then six days in reserve. When out of the trenches we are billeted round, and can be comfortable. In the trenches we work at night and rest by day, so the poem I learnt in infancy:

Soldier, rest! Thy warfare o’er,
Sleep the sleep that knows no waking
Dream of battlefields no more,
Days of toil and nights of aching

should be

Nights of toil and days of aching.

For after all, we cannot expect a luxurious club room existence in the trenches! We have braziers with charcoal. Anyway I have never felt freezing yet, though we had snow yesterday.

At present we are billeted in a pub (‘estaminet’). We are three officers of A Company, Captain Ramsay, Collier, and myself. We have one quite large room, with a stone floor. We sleep in our valises, on straw, and I thank my stars that I bought a fleecy blanket at Havre! It is light and very warm. You have to walk carefully because the roads are pitted with shell holes. The nearer you get to the firing line the more desolate everything is. The only inhabitants of the deserted and shattered cottages are cats.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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