When the War came: Movement 4: Dispatches

There had to be a movement for letters home. Those heartbreaking letters from the line , often by people who had never written them before; from some who couldn’t write and had to dictate them. They used the stock phrases that were seen to be the polite way to write; they were heavily censored if they said anything real about where they were or what they were doing, and in any case, they were writing to family and loved ones at home who they didn’t want to worry.

At first the training in the camps and the good regular food and the fun of being all together to lads who had been used to long hours of work must have been relatively easy to be jaunty about; everything changed of course when they arrived in the trenches themselves and began to get a sense of the true nature of the nightmare they found themselves in.  It was in any case so far removed from any experience anyone at home would have had there were no words to express the truth.

The girls were trained as nurses with rigid discipline. And when they were moved, they were not always in dressing stations behind the lines; many of them were very close to the fighting. Their work was far from angelic: dirty, exhausting and very dangerous. Many of them died, as the men did, from the shelling; they also died, as the men did, from infections caught from their patients.

I tried to express the disjunct between what they said and how they increasingly felt by interspersing the letters they actually sent home with the other refrain – beginning ‘I’m thinking of you’, which expressed how they really felt under the bravado; but could not write.

They were so young. If your had your parents’ permission, you could sign up at 16; many, many lads lied about their age and went at 14, 15.

 

MOVEMENT FOUR: DISPATCHES

 

NARRATOR

 

It was all so exciting! First everything – first time on a train, first time on a ship, first time abroad- new people, new work.. new hills and trees and valleys.. new food, new words..

And all of us had our best friends to share it with – our pals, all together in the same regiment. All together against the foe.

So much to write home about.. but .. no Mum to wrap you up in red flannel if you caught a cold.. no little sister on your knee.. no sweetheart to walk out with.. no way to talk about being scared, or homesick.. in any case, that wouldn’t be what your Mum and Dad at home would want to hear..

 

 

 

SONG FIVE: DISPATCHES

 

BOYS AND GIRLS

 

I’m thinking of you

Every day.

It seems so odd

That you should be

So far away.

 

I hope

We’ll all come home

One day

It seems so odd

That we should be

So far away..

Far away

 

ALL BOYS

 

All very well here.

Bright and hot and sunny.

I can stick a bayonet

In a scarecrow dummy

I can strip a rifle down

Quick as shoot a bunny!

 

What a lark! What a lark! What a lark!

Thank you for the honey!

 

 

We are doing very well.

All the lads are happy

Drilling in the lovely sun

Getting really savvy

I am getting very strong

Learned to dig a lavvy!

 

What a lark! What a lark! What a lark!

Give my love to granny!

 

Boys and girls

 

I’m thinking of you

Every day.

It seems so odd

That you should be

So far away.

 

I hope

We’ll all come home

One day

It seems so odd

That we should be

So far away..

Far away

 

 

NARRATOR

 

The girls were learning too -they were dealing with a terror greater than they had ever known: Matron.

 

ALL GIRLS

 

Training here is very hard

Very scared of Matron

If your cap is crooked or

You haven’t ironed your apron

She will fry you with her eye

Until you’ve got it straightened

 

What a lark! What a lark! What a lark!

Thank you for the bacon!

 

NARRATOR

 

But then we moved to the front.. And things were different.. The letters still kept coming, but it was getting harder and harder to be cheerful… Joe and Mary wrote to each other, and said as much as they could-

 

Dearest Mary, I hope the cow is well now and your mother’s tooth is better. I keep seeing you on the hill where we always used to walk. I wish I was there with you..always, Your Joe.

 

and she replied:

 

My dearest Joe, I hope this finds you in the pink as it leaves me…The cow is better, thank you. And my mother’s tooth is out. I’m not much one for writing, dearest Joe. But I’ll be waiting for you on the hill, just like I promised. I’ll always wait for you, my dearest Joe. Your Mary.

 

 

BOYS AND GIRLS

 

I’m thinking of you

Every day.

It seems so odd

That you should be

So far away.

 

I hope

We’ll all come home

One day

It seems so odd

That we should be

So far away..

Far away

 

BOY SOLO

I’m sorry that

My writing

Is

So shaky

 

The paper’s always

Wet here

In

The trenches

 

I’m sorry that

My writing

Is

So shaky

 

The paper’s always

Wet here

In

The trenches

 

My pencil goes

Right through it

 

My pencil goes

Right through it

 

The noise is

Fairly loud here

 

The noise is

Fairly loud here

 

But I am

Very well

And

Keeping cheerful

 

But I am

Very well

And

Keeping cheerful

 

 

I’m sorry that

My writing

Is

So shaky

 

In the trenches..

In the trenches..

In the trenches..

 

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