The headmaster of Cowley’s School at Donington, Mr G W Marsh, had received a letter for a former assistant master at the school who was at war.
Signaller Sylvester, B Company of the 5th Lincolns, wrote an account of life in the trenches.
He noted: “The great thing we have noticed about the people here is their apparent indifference to the war. Even in places which are within range of the German guns, the labourers go about their working the fields just as they would in the ordinary way.”
After months of training, his company was “excited at the prospect of seeing some real fighting”. In fact, on their first night in the trenches, the only bit of excitement was when a party of Germans came out of their trench to mend the barbed wire.
Signaller Sylvester said they had been impressed by the “coolness” of the regulars.
He related how in the morning they were going to get some sleep on top of straw in a dugout. One of the regulars , noting that their fire was getting low, set off to an abandoned house to find some planks.
He wrote: “As soon as he left the cover of the house the Germans spotted him and opened fire. We expected to see him drop the planks and get down quickly, but he kept on as if nothing was the matter. By the time he got to the trench bullets were fairly humming around him, but he was not even scratched. Then, to finish off, he climbed out again and chopped a plank up in full view of the enemy.”
He said they kept up continuous fire on the German trenches, and added: “It was not safe for us to stick our heads up, so we kept a look out by means of periscopes. All went well until one of our chaps was shot through the head and killed instantly.”