Letters Home from the Front

Reading Robert Crowder’s letters home written in 1917 makes one aware of the immediacy and intimacy of communications between the trenches and home. They make for poignant reading.

Robert Crowder writing home. Screen grab (c) Nick Loven.
Robert Crowder writing home. Screen grab (c) Nick Loven.

Here is a list of some of the things that Robert requests or is sent:

  • Toiletries: Lifebuoy or Wrights Coal Tar Soap,  safety razor, towel and handkerchiefs, a strong sponge bag, 2 dusters, soap, toothpaste, a few boxes of matches, soap, another towel, sponge bag and toothbrush, tin of Pomade, tooth powder, Harrison’s Pomade [a kind of Vaseline but smelt terrible, it was supposed to kill the lice].
  • Treats: Choc, rock cakes,  cakes, a tin of apple jelly, tin of black currant jelly,  a little chocolate and some cigarettes, tin of honey, jam and sweets, lemonade, cigs and chocs, lovely paste and mint, some of Eliza’s big bull-eyes, cocoa or coffee tablets or Cadbury’s coca essence
  • Perishables: Cucumber, tomatoes, butter, pork pie
  • Clothes: shirts, 2 pairs socks, vest, slippers, woollen cardigan, a pair of bed socks [knitted by his aunt]
Robert in his tent resting behind the lines. Photo (c) John Bennett
Robert in his tent resting behind the lines. Photo (c) John Bennett ‘Please excuse bad writing but we have to do it in our tents now. Will you please send one of the khaki shirts. I have had a good new one given me. The fellow was going to throw it away as he had more than he could carry, so send the other one next week. I want some socks and hope you have sent some off. I prefer woollen ones and should like you to send me two pairs a weeks or something like that as we have to be careful with our feet during all this marching.’

Here are some of the letter extracts which include references to various issues such as the cost of goods in France, the fact that they had to be able to carry all they owned when on the move and the need for a plentiful supply of socks:

‘Please send me, as soon as you can, a strong sponge bag, 2 dusters, a tin of apple jelly, tin of black currant jelly. I am sure they will travel alright in small tins, also soap, toothpaste, a little chocolate and some cigarettes, those we get here are not very good. Don’t send any clothes as we can get these washed and when I want new things will let you know.’

‘Please send as soon as you can 2 pairs socks, vest, slippers, tin of honey, jam and sweets are rather dear out here.’

‘Please do not send any clothes unless I write for them, as when we move anywhere we have to carry everything.’

‘I have just tasted the lemonade it is very good, also of course the cigs and chocs which are a great treat. It is good of you to send parcels so often.’

but do you think Mason could send me a cucumber, it would be so refreshing and I think if it was wrapped in a little damp moss it would come alright, but do as you think and now when you send parcels will you write on t e outside the contents or else it is liable to be opened.

When I get to my new abode you may send my new shirts but don’t until and as for more well I have quite as much as I can carry now. Remember a Tommy has to carry everything he possesses (is that right, it seems all s’s!!) it is not case of “carry bag, sir”. The weight which I have to carry is quite 75 lbs which is quite enough

You might post me 2 more pairs of socks now. They will follow me if you address them the same as usual but not shirts.

P.S. I am sending my hair brushes home. I have no room for them. Must use a comb for the present.

Will you ask Mother to send me a small cloth to put my knife, fork and spoon in.

Please excuse bad writing but we have to do it in our tents now. Will you please send one of the khaki shirts. I have had a good new one given me. The fellow was going to throw it away as he had more than he could carry, so send the other one next week. I want some socks and hope you have sent some off. I prefer woollen ones and should like you to send me two pairs a weeks or something like that as we have to be careful with our feet during all this marching.

Unfortunately the parcel containing the tomatoes, etc., had been smashed about badly and had a note on it saying through not packing strong enough it had to be re-addressed and packed again at the home office. All the same the cucumber were lovely and eat just as fresh as they do at home and half of the tomatoes were very good, the cake I have not tasted yet but know it will be good: the shirt is lovely material, in fact as may guess everything is a great treat, do send more cucumber and the best way to pack the tomatoes in chaff like eggs

The next you send will you put in a tin of Harrison’s Pomade and ask Will to get and send a woollen cardigan, my other is worn out and they are nice to wear cold nights

Please send no more parcels until I write again except a little choc., butter or cake and socks. No more trench articles, tea tablets, etc., only small parcels until I write again, the reason why I can’t tell you

Very many thanks for the parcel, everything was packed splendidly. The eatables were very delicious. I have had a very nice parcel from Aunt Gertie, a pair of bed socks she had knitted is a great comfort and she also enclosed some very good chocolate.

Will you send some more socks. I am not badly off but when we come out of the trenches the socks are absolutely no good

Many thanks for the parcel with the pork pie, which was splendid and I was pleased to have the socks. The cardigan is of course very warm and I shall be alright for warm things now

It is a very good idea to number the parcels but I feel sure none have been lost. The grey socks are very nice and plenty good enough.

Robert also sent things home:

‘I am enclosing a badge for Grace. It’s not the one I wanted but they were sold out of the others. If we stop I will get her another and she can pass this one on to Miss Little.’

 

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