Historian Arthur Nicholls, Kendal, finds some of the soldiers’ letters reproduced in The Westmorland Gazette in the first weeks of the war both graphic and moving.

September 12: Letter from a member of the London Scottish:
"This is our third day in the trenches. We are fairly safe here behind the barbed wire entanglements. This would be an easy job if one could get used to the row and the watching through the night, which is rather nerve-wracking. We are in what was a pretty little wood and shell fire has damaged nearly all the trees which, being windy, they are falling in all directions. We have not had a hot meal since we came here. We are not allowed to build fires. We have also lost our blankets. I am just going to have my lunch of ‘bully’ and bread with plain water.
The weather has been atrocious - pouring rain and driving, cutting snow - but it did not get through my overcoat which is richly coated with mud. We have marched back from the firing line for a short rest. We marched through roads and fields ankle deep in porridgey mud but we would put up with any hardship to be away from the strain of flying shells and bullets. Almost every man has a beard and you could not imagine the dirty, bedraggled crowd we are.
The nights are pitch black, the rain pouring down and making the trenches an awful mess. We sent out a burial party in front of us one morning. There were hundreds of Germans lying there. All we could do was to bury them with earth.
This awful war surely cannot last long. However, despite all the discomforts, I would not have liked to have messed the chance of doing my part here."

October 31: Letter from Private W. Barker of Kendal: “There are only about two things here which don’t agree with us – the Germans and the tobacco – both are rotten. I guess it would amuse you to see us pinching spuds and turnips to make ‘pies’ with the bully beef. At first we made rather a mess of the job but I think we are improving. At any rate, we can eat it.”

Second letter from Private W. Barker of the RAC in the British Expeditionary Force: “We are not having a bad time – plenty to eat. We can get bags of fruit, eggs, chickens, etc for next to nothing. Things have become pretty lively. It is no joke being shelled out of bed before daybreak. We can hear the shells coming fully half a minute before they land. It’s just a case of ‘boom – whiz – crash’ and it’s all over until the next one comes. I’m doing champion but it’s a bit cold here in the morning.”

Letter from Frank Wilkinson of Kendal with the Highland Light Infantry: “Five of us were sent out to clear a farm house of a few Germans who were sniping at us. We had to crawl on our bellies for about a hundred yards until we got under cover as shells and bullets were coming down like rain drops. All of a sudden a dirty big shell hit the farm house and crumpled it up like a piece of paper. The other four of our chaps were killed outright but I was lucky only to have a bone in my hip broken. I will have to lie on my back for a month.”

From a report by a Staff Officer: “The Germans as a whole fight splendidly, but man for man, they are not nearly the equal of Tommy Atkins, either in courage, endurance or training. Tommy Atkins is simply marvellous. His pluck, his extraordinary fighting quality, and his magnificent courage and cheeriness under unthinkable hardship, can never be understood except by those who have seen it like I have.”

An Infantryman’s Typical Day – from a letter home: “We had been digging trenches all day in heavy soil after a hard fight the day before and had been persistently shelled. Only one man had been killed but we lost what we felt almost as much – three horses, including two from our ‘cooker’. We had hoped to get some sleep after our hard work but were roused up at midnight and had to march off a mile or so to start digging again. It was a race against time as, with daylight, we knew we were certain to be shelled. We dug hard all through the night and, when dawn came, we had only dug down about four feet deep through the thickest clay I have ever had the misfortune to shift. The trenches were not big enough for us to lie down to sleep. The shelling began, one bursting on the parapet of our trench, half burying us but we were pulled out unhurt.

November 21: Letter from Driver T. Ridley of Kendal: "I will never forget Saturday 31st October as long as I live. We had orders to take four wagons of ammunition to the firing line. As we went through a ploughed field we saw the German guns open fire on us. After getting through three fields we tired of using the whip on the poor horses and just let them take us to safety. Shells were bursting in front, the back and the sides. There were broken wagons, dead horses and wounded men all around. It was horrible. One poor chap had his head blown right off and his shoulders strewn all over the place. It seemed to take us hours to get away but it was really only fifteen minutes. I would not go through that again for £500 and that’s a lot of money."

A letter reporting the death of Lance Corporal R.A.N. Crayston: "He was in the trenches when the Germans opened a terrible fire on them but they were safe under overhead covering. A shell, however, burst close to the trench and a piece hit him somewhere in the stomach and he died. He was never afraid of the Germans and was always the first to volunteer for dangerous work."

A letter reporting the wounding of Private H. Walker: "He was wounded in his shoulder near Poperinghi. After a time in hospital at Netley, he was sent home to Bowland Bridge on furlough. He fought in all the battles from Mons to Calais and is now ready to return again to the Front."

November 28: From an unnamed soldier."Snow began to fall in large soft flakes and covered the ground to about ten inches. However, it melted underfoot and rendered the state of the roads worse than before. The conditions in the trenches became wretched beyond description. The men had to sit or stand in a mixture of straw and liquid mud made worse by half-frozen slush. On the brighter side, the enemy’s howitzer shells sank some depth into the mud before they detonated, expending most of their energy upwards and throwing mud around."

From Driver Woof, RFA: "I no sooner got back into the firing line when I was wounded – shot through the leg. The bullets went right through so it wasn’t serious. It was night time and I got lost and strayed towards the German lines. The Germans must have been able to see in the dark because I could not see them."

December 12: From an un-named soldier: “We have been living in the lap of luxury. It was like Christmas Day. We were inundated with parcels from home with all sorts of comforts and any amount of sweets, shortbread, cake, etc. You can have no idea how all these luxuries are appreciated after living on ‘bully’ and biscuits. The Prince of Wales visited us today. He looked very well.”

December 19: An NCO wrote home saying: "We are now at the Red Sea end of the Suez Canal awaiting the arrival of the Indian convoy. We heard that you had got news that our boat had been sunk. We are still in the same boat and the only fault is that we are crowded for room."

From Private F. Goodman, 2nd Battalion 60th (King’s Royal) Rifles, writing from a military hospital: "I was buried in a trench by an explosion with another eighteen of my fighting chums of whom four were killed and the rest, including me, were wounded. My injuries are nothing worth mentioning. I have had some narrow escapes but I am still here to return to have another rub at them. We shall have to watch that ‘Jack Johnson’ of theirs (a large explosive missile) which buried us at Ypres. They advance in masses and we can knock them over like skittles. Poor devils. I used to feel sorry for them. They don’t know what they are fighting for. I don’t mind the fighting but we have had such bad weather. Our trenches got half full of water and we can’t leave them. If we stick our heads up (over the parapet) we are shot by their snipers."