A Letter from the Trenches

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Among the 'Parker of Browsholme' Archive is this poignant letter written by Major George Allan Heron (1877-1948) of the Royal West Kents while he was in the trenches in France. He writes to his cousin Robert Goulbourne Parker on 16th June 1916, responding to Robert’s letter and talking about where he, Allan, is at the time of writing. Note how 'home' in this instance isn't a comfy bed in England, but his place in the trenches...

”I live, when I am at home in an old cellar with a narrow shaft for light which means no light at all and always candles burning. Huge rats run about everywhere and a trench cat hunts them under fire"

”The Germans have been firing rifle grenades at us this morning but they have stopped now and I hope they will not start again"

This poignant letter conveys the bleak reality of trench warfare in the hand of someone living it - but Allan does not complain! He goes on to relate how they have been playing cricket on a piece of rough ground - at odds with the warfare crashing on around them. Strikingly, the letter is almost light-hearted in tone, demonstrating a classic British stiff-upper-lip and a ‘let’s not worry the folk at home' type of attitude. He goes on to joke about getting a minor injury which may allow him to come home on a holiday:

"If only I get the light sort of wound and am near the dressing station when I get it - I may get a holiday in England”

Sadly however, between June and September he receives a gunshot wound to his right leg and it has to be amputated. He is sent to 20 General Hospital Camiers (north of Le Touquet) where it appears his cousin Robert’s mother, Beatrice Parker, travelled out to France to nurse Allan. Beatrice writes to Robert on 8th October 1916 to let him know how Allan is doing:

“Dearest Robert, I am here still as Allan has been getting on so slowly that the CO would not let me go home. I think he was a shade better yesterday…”

Allan’s pencilled letter gives us a momentary glimpse into one day of his life in the trenches, and his subsequent injury reveals a closeness to the Parker family where Beatrice travels at a dangerous time to go and visit and care for him. It’s these documents that bring an archive and the people in them to life and makes the trenches seem far more real and relatable, than a Hollywood movie does.

by Anna Watson

Nov 09, 2021

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