Letters from a Lost Generation

Vera Brittain

Roland Leighton (Vera's Fiancé) to Vera

France, 20–21 April 1915 Your two last letters came one last night and one the night before, and I read them by candlelight sitting on the little wooden bench outside my dug-out. I am sitting there now writing this, while the sun shines on the paper and a bee is humming round and round the bed of primroses in front of me. War and primroses! At the moment it does not seem as if there could be such a thing as war. Our trenches are in the middle of a vast wood of tall straight trees—at least the support and reserve trenches are inside the wood, the fire trenches on the front edge. We have held the whole of this wood since the beginning of November and it is all a maze of small paths and isolated huts and breastworks. My own dug-out is in the second line, about 180 to 200 yards behind the fire trenches on the wood-edge. Hence the possibility of having primroses planted in front, behind the shelter of the breastwork. Half my platoon is in this support line and half in the fire trenches, so that I have to divide my time equally between them, except that of course I have my meals and sleep (when I have the time) down here, where there is cover from view, if not altogether from fire. As a matter of fact the wood is all exposed to shell-fire; and two of our men since yesterday morning have been hit by snipers as far back as in the third line. One bullet whistled past my head as I was shaving this morning just round the corner. Yesterday afternoon we were shelled for some time; and had our first man killed—shot through the head.

The portion of the line we are holding here is one of the best known, and much too strong now to be retaken by the Germans. It is probable that they will keep us here for some time— perhaps as long as two months. We are to be relieved by the 8th Worcesters every four days, have four days' rest in billets a few miles back, and then come in again for another four days. We are to go out to billets tomorrow Wednesday morning.

It is very nice sitting here now. At times I can quite forget danger and war and death, and think only of the beauty of life, and love—and you. Everything is in such grim contrast here. I went up yesterday morning to my fire trench, through the sunlit wood, and found the body of a dead British soldier hidden in the undergrowth a few yards from the path. He must have been shot there during the wood fighting in the early part of the war and lain forgotten all this time. The ground was slightly marshy and the body had sunk down into it so that only the toes of his boots stuck up above the soil. His cap and equipment were just by the side, half-buried and rotting away. I am having a mound of earth thrown over him, to add one more to the other little graves in the wood.


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The World War I Reader
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