WEEKEND WEB: Former Free Press man wrote from France

Private C Cross, from Sutton Bridge, who died in battle.
Private C Cross, from Sutton Bridge, who died in battle.
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A former member of the Free Press staff was a soldier on the Western Front. He wrote a letter to his former colleagues, received in 1917, about his experience in the Battle of Passchendaele . . .

‘Our troops made steady progress and at an early hour, the village of Passchendaele was captured,’ said the Government.

‘Such was the official statement which announced the final phase of the greatest battle of the war. How matter of fact, how devoid of arrogance or boasting that truly British sentence is, yet it announced the completion of a task which at the commencment savoured of the impossible.

‘Nobody, excepting those who were present, perhaps will ever realise all that this battle was and those who were there have come through it dazed by the immensity of the whole thing and the incidents and scenes which every second crowded in upon them.

‘It was the privilege of my division and I will say, my battery in particular, to play a not insignificant part in this, one of the great battles of the war, and I will here set down a few of the things which I personally saw and in which I took part.

‘My friends will pardon the lack of communication in anything I write, but there is no quiet editorial sanctum in which to write here, and duty calls every few minutes.

‘My particular battery was pushed up within a few hundred yards of the enemy‘s line, which was no longer trenches, but shell holes and pill boxes. Our observation post was a captured pill box, which measured about 6ft by 4ft. The countryside was literally a sea of mud.

‘It is surprising how soon you get used to being under fire. The first time, I admit, I had the wind up proper, but afterwards, a casual remark that one was was near, and the thing is forgotten.’

To be continued...