Neil – Mother: 9 Sep 1917

Sunday 9th Sept.
Dear Mother
I received two letters from Dad yesterday, and Trot and I one each from Gorrie, and Trot one from you.  You must not forget that when you receive this letter say on October 31st, it is in answer to your letters written early in July, and that we yet know nothing of the 16 letters that you write between those times.  By the way in case a whole ambulance section gets strafed, they dont encourage two brothers to remain together.  They separate them in order to make practically certain that not more than one will get a knock.  Therefore don’t assume that I shall see the letters written to trot after you receive this.  I was rather surprised that Vic was reported seriously wounded.   I should give three months  sxparation allowance to get wounded in the same way and get back to Blighty just in time for ‘Xmas leave.  I always was fairly lucky.  Perhaps it will stick.  We are just back from London leave.  We went up on Tuesday.  We went to a matinee at the Coliseum Tues afternoon and to “Three Weeks” Tues night.  It was moonlight with a light mist high up.  We didn’t see them being in the Theatre, but at 8.30 a lot of police whizzed round the streets on motor cycles with the notice “Air Raid Expected” and later at 10.30 with the notice “Enemy craft on way”.  We came out of the theatre blissfully ignorant of the fact that the Germans knew we had arrived in London and were going to have a go at us.  We were staying at the Y.M.C.A. Aldwich Hut, right in the centre of London.  I was in my cubicle and had just got half a puttee off when the sky pilot in his xxxx service voice said along the passage “air raid Take cover in the dugout”.  The old hands back from the front had seen bombs dropped before so they went into the dugout.  [Vic says it is all rot about the old hands taking no notice of shells at the front.  He says it is the new chumps who pretend they don’t care and stay in the trench when they hear a shell whine.  The main body men have seen high explosives hit trenches before, so they dive into the dugout every time.  Perhaps that is why they are still there.  I suppose those early ones that did not dive don’t need to now].  Several of us new ones went outside the hut to have a look.  The searchlights were very busy and all the motor buses were stopped, but everything else seemed as usual.   We went down to the Strand and all the buildings were on their feet as usual.  All the people had disappeared down cellars and tubes.  The tubes are anything up to 200 ft below the ground.  Just then one of the big searchlights that had been groping around stopped.  We could’t see anything at it’s end but shells, shrapnel I think, immediately  began to burst there, and a felt hat not being much protection we began to think of having a look at the dugout.  Just then a bomb dropped about as far as the top of Richmond Rd is from you.  The noise was so great that I have no exact recollection of hearing it.  I have got a sort of idea that it went from inside my head out , instead of from outside in, as usual.  The whole of London shook and the echoes through the streets afterward sounded as if about a dozen blocks of buildings were collapsing.  Three other bombs dropped within a few seconds all within about 300 yards of us more or less.  The casualties in the city itself were very slight because there are plenty of cellars and tubes and things and therefore practically no people are about.  There is a special London motor ambulance service to look after anybody that does get a crack so that novices on foot are not thanked for exposing themselves and interfering.  So Trot & I went back to the hut (only about 50 yds) to find the dugout.  We found it all right but by that time the strafing seemed finished so we hung about for a while ready to dive in but nothing happened so we went to bed.  About half an hour after 14 more bombs were dropped, but none seemed nearer than a mile and the ladies and everyone were still in the dugout and our trousers were cold so we stayed in bed.  A peculiar thing about a bomb is that the flash does not seem to to come from the bomb itself, but from the whole area round the bomb like this (diagram) not this (diagram) .  The actual flame from the bomb is about the size of Mt Eden upside down.  We had a look at the place where the nearest bomb fell next morning.  It made a hole in the wood paved street about 8 feet across and 6 feet deep.  Here’s a diagram.  Every window in both hospitals was smashed and some had their frames blown in as well.  Some 2 ft solid colonnades at the entrance to the hospital at A had bits the size of your head chipped out of them.  A 5/8″ plate glass window at B facing the Strand was blown in by concussion and there was a nice general mess up everywhere.  One of the Tommies told me that some time ago a bomb from a Zepp hit a TNT high explosive dump and every building and lamp post and telegraph post for 1/4 mile was blown absolutely flat.  Casualties admitted 100.  Casualties actual – censored.  The aeroplanes seem to have got London really wet.  In most houses they post xxx of the family sentry and xxx and those who relieve xxx stay awake to warn the rest of the family if xxx are approaching.  There is no general rocket or gun warning given now.  Only motor cycle and police whistles.  Eleven pages is enough for one spasm.  (He was half way down page eleven of the letter) 

By the time you get this you will probably have had news of what we already know here is going to happen soon over there.  (This may be a reference to the Third Battle of Ypres,  ie Passchendaele,  which started at the end of July and lasted to early November)  [That sounds drunk but it is all right].  Vic wont be over there in time on account of his luck on 7/4/17.  (perhaps he means 10/7/17 when Vic was wounded)  We won’t be there either I think.