Letters from Flanders
This series of letters was sent to me by a distant cousin - Graham Fosbery, in Australia who was nephew to writer.
They point to the extreme pathos of young spirit extinguished in the terrible trauma of war and are hardly easier to bear to read now than when they were first written and received.
How many millions of such exchanges have been sent in the wars of our time ?
To all such Mothers and their Sons this page is dedicated
in lasting memory.
Lest We Forget
2nd LIEUTENANT FRANK SYDNEY THOMAS FOSBERY B.E.F.
A VERY YOUNG SOLDIER WHO DIED FOR HIS COUNTRY
Last letters from the battle front in France 1917/1918 to his mother at 32 Lansdown Crescent, Cheltenham GLOS
Graham writes - "All mail was censored at the time, hence vague references on occasion.
Copies are verbatim and are intended to convey the thoughts of an 18 year old serving at the 'front' in WW1. 'Bob' referred to in this letter was his brother who survived and lived until the late 1980's.
B.E.F. refers to the British Expeditionary Force".
"I have in my possession the original hand written (in pencil) letters which were treasured by Frank's mother (my grandmother) until she died. They were then cared for by my aunt, Hildgarde Kathleen Georgina Fosbery, until she died in 1991. In addition, we have a lock of Frank's hair stored in an envelope and carried across the world for over 80 years".
A cutting taken from a newspaper in 1919 is also part of the collection and somehow sums up the feelings of Frank's mother in her grief.
IN FLANDERS FIELDS
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
To you with failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
This poem, regarded by many as the greatest poem of the war, was written by Lieut Colonel John McCrae, of the Canadian army. A graduate in medicine from Toronto University, he was appointed January 5, 1918, Consulting Physician to the British armies in France and died in hospital January 28
1918, 'dark to the triumph he died to gain'.
LETTERS TO MY MOTHER
I have not gone up the line yet and may not do so for a day or two. I have had a splendid time so far and as fit as a fiddle. Good grub warm at night in a good tent with floorboards and a comfortable mess. What more could one want. We had quite a decent journey over. We got to Folkstone about 2.10am and were dismissed til 12.45 so we went in the town & had a stroll on the (leas??) & then lunch & back to the boat & started in lovely sunshine & a smooth sea. In spite of that I heard one remark that whisky tasted better going down than coming up. I was quite all right but several were not. The name of the boat was the Princess Victoria: we got in about 4pm & then went to tea at the officers club & started at 4.45 by motor lorry with our kits for the M.G. base where we got to about 6pm. Then dinner & to bed.
I am writing this in the officers' club not far from in fact 2 or 3 hundred yards from Lady Angela Forbes but in the same base as I was when a Tommy before I came home.
I have just walked over here for lunch and a look at the town & to get a few things from Ordinance.
Yesterday I was told that I was going this morning to the 8th M.G. Coy as a sec officer but I told the Adjutant I was a T.O. so he said I will see about your getting the job but you may have to go up the line. Later it was cancelled another man taking my place,
2/Lt F Fosbery
I have got your letters at last. I am still here and likely to stop another week from all appearances. Frightfully cold weather with tons of snow & ice about but the last day or so has been better. I have done odd jobs every morning & then the rest of the day to myself. I have been to Boulogne & Etaples several times and had a very good time generally.
The WAAC girls here are great. I was sitting last night at about 8.30 in an Officers' club 'I suppose I had better not say where' but not here; & the girls were not in the least windy even with the lights out and candles on the tables. Old Fritz dropped quite a few & killed 16 or more. I saw one result some 300' away about an hour afterwards. I am sure I never heard anything but the Archies popping off outside. It's quite all right really they never do much damage down here although they make an almost nightly habit of it everywhere nowadays. I am waiting to go up the line a T.O. so that's alright if I get it 'which I hope to do with any ordinary luck & it won't be for the want of trying either.
I have managed to fix myself up all right with what I want. There is no hurry with the jerkin & please don't send anything else in the line of socks as I don't want to be a Christmas tree or a travelling circus & I will very soon squeal up if I want anything.
I am writing to Bob's CO today for news & will let you know the result but I see no need to worry especially as the mails are so bad now.
I am having a real good holiday; one of the best I have ever had in fact.
Tons of love to all
The seasons greeting to all although we all hate it, at least I do.
This is an additional bit.
I enclose a souvenir for what it is worth. We are billeted in a very battered house within 3000 yards of the line & in it we have of all things a piano 'goodness knows where it came from I don't. If you have ever seen Bairnsfather picture entitled 'Dear so & so we are billeted at a farm', you have the scene only not so bad. Keep smiling as I am all right.
Love to all & the kids.
Your loving son
64th M.G. Company
I have been posted to the above company and expect to go up the line in the morning but I may not. As far as I know I am going up as a T.O. & hope to get it all right. I believe the division is South of where Bob was on a quiet part of the line about where we join the French.
The above is the full address plus my name. If you know how much three times seven makes you have the number of the division but you are not allowed to put it on letters. I am writing up to Bob's C.O. & will let you know when I hear from him. Please get a couple of batteries for my torch. It cost 4/6 at Moody Bells & has a red casing. The size is about 2in by 6in.
I had a very good Christmas indeed, which I spent in Boulougne with a friend. There was nothing to do here and in any case there was one long blind all day and night.
I will drop you a line as soon as I get up to the Coy. Have had a splendid time here so I cannot grumble can I. Although I might just as well have been at home instead of rushed out here in such an infernal hurry.
Love to all,
Your Loving Son
64th MG Coy
I am going up the line in the morning at 6am. Have had a splendid time down here so I don't mind a bit.
I am going as a TO with it stated on my papers and with orders to write to the OC base if I am not but on it. A complaint will be sent to GHQ and me transferred to another coy, so I feel pretty safe. It's as good as the ASC so don't worry. Write soon.
Tons of love
Officers Rest House and mess.
What a journey, so slow that I think I could have walked it in the time. I started at 6am yesterday morning & arrived here at 7pm. We certainly had enough to eat and a fairly decent carriage but it was so very slow. I have not yet joined my Coy but hope to do so today as I believe they are not far away from here. I jumped out here last night knowing of this club as I did not feel like wandering about in the dark and a blinding snow storm trying to find them.
This place is like a big London mansion. In fact the whole town is (or rather was) very finely built with splendid houses and broad roads, but now, well it is just blown to blazes, this being about the only place left at all intact. It was really weird passing through a countryside with battered woods and houses and the ground all shell holes with never a sign of life except the train; just long rolling downs as bare as a table & covered with snow. It must have been terrible attacking over such country as you could be seen anywhere and everywhere with no sign of cover. This place Leronne(?) was taken by the French and there are a few civilians here even now.
Tons of love to all
64th MG Coy
I have at last joined my company and find them so far a very decent crowd really. All of them are fairly young.
I am taking their transport officer's place as he is going to Grantham on what is called the substitution scheme. That is to say, a man with long service out here is sent home for a rest.
I think I shall be all right, especially as I have not ousted anybody out of a job. He has been the permanent TO so I hope I shall be the same.
I have been making inquiries about Bob's battery and find that the guns of his battery are lying between the Bosche line and ours in the very same sector our Coy is now holding. His battery and another were surprised when the Bosche broke through the infantry in his famous counter attack South of the push by us. The result was everyone and to cut and run like blazes. Both inf. and art. were so disorganised that that is probably the reason you did not hear from him.
I have just crossed out something on second thoughts but it is nothing much and only military. I shall try my hardest to find him and see him. Tell him to do the same when you write and don't forget about his commission.
Love to all
64th MG Coy
I am sending this letter by Lieut. Clutterbuck, the officer whose place I am taking. He is going home for a rest and will post it in England.
I have written to you several times but have had only two letters at Camieres since I came out here, so I think if you put the address I give in it's entirety as it may come quicker being addressed to a division instead of only a company. You can send on my jerkin as soon as you like and also that big lamp and also a couple of batteries if you can get them. Please write to McGregors and find out how my account stands(write for bank book) & write and let me know as it would be easier than having it sent out here.
Also please write to
Bottomly and Son,
And ask them for the bill for my breeches . Don't pay any other bills unless I tell you (you won't get any as I have only one for a few shillings at Halls). I also want a pipe. Get a nice light one with a straight stem and dark in colour. Don't give more than 4/- for it.
Send me the bill & I'll pay & don't forget please.
Now for the verboten. I am quite comfortable -------- (notice the stroke! I just jumped when one of our 9.2inch guns went off) in this house and it is fairly cuchy so I can't grumble. We are NE of Peronne in the village of Hendicourt, which is about 3000 yards from the line. Our Coy is now in the line but the whole division is coming out about 14th or 15th and going back for a rest of about 3 weeks or so to somewhere near Amiens. I believe Bob is at the village of Paix a good way back.
Tons of love to all,
THE FINAL FATEFUL NEWS.
21st MG Battalion,
32 Landsdown Crescent,
Myself and all of the officers who knew your son wish to express our sincerest sympathy with you in your great loss.
He was killed on 21 March by enemy shell fire while gallantly fighting the two machine guns he was in charge of just on the outskirts of a place called Epehy where the fighting was very severe. He was always cheerful and enthusiastic and, for that reason, was very popular indeed amongst his men and brother officers.
I regret to state that his kit and that of all the other officers with the company at the time was destroyed during the withdrawal that took place on the Somme.
Sidney C. Thomson
P.S. I should have written earlier but did not know your address as all our records were lost. SCT
I JOIN WITH MY GRATEFUL PEOPLE IN SENDING YOU THIS MEMORIAL OF A BRAVE LIFE GIVEN FOR OTHERS IN THE GREAT WAR