In this letter home to his family in Thurso David Barrogill Keith has arrived in France. He and his fellow officers had crossed the Channel to Boulogne, and on to the base camp at Etaples. After some rudimentary training in surviving a gas attack they were assigned to the 10th Scottish Rifles, which had suffered severely in the Battle of Loos – and which was still going on.
The letter was written while DB Keith was still at Etaples – the “fattest man in all the world” was a man called Needham who ran the Quartermaster’s Stores, and who, according to DB Keith’s autobiography, “became a sort of Father Christmas to us”.
Thursday 5 October 1915, 12th [Scottish Rifles], Attached 10th Cameronians, B.E.F.
My dear Mother,
There is nothing much to tell this time only yesterday I saw the fattest man in all the world. Honestly you could put 5 or 7 men together in the space he occupied. He was simply enormous.
We hear the guns all day here but pretty far away in the distance. Other than that & the fact that the French town is full of Khaki one would not know of the existence of the war.
Things apparently are black in the Balkans. Bulgaria is in & probably now the other states will wait to see how the cat is going to jump. Greece may or may not come in. I think she probably will. Romania I think will not.
So public opinion seems to be rather against our success. The war anyway is hardly started. I do not believe the economic factor will defeat Germany. Germany is far too systematic to fail to take all due precaution against that. Some day a year or so hence we may awake to the fact that danger threatens us from that source. Of course so long as we retain control of the sea – with our colonies not going bankrupt thro’ excessive pay to their soldiers & bonuses & pensions to dependents – we ought to get our necessaries all right. But things are not looking too well & even on sea I fear the Germans. They have something up their sleeve. The war indeed – the more I see of it makes me more certain – will be a long one & the people to carry it to a close will be other men & other politicians.
It may be a day or two before I write again as there is nothing to report. You might arrange to send me some grouse & some other eatables now & then. Later when we have a company mess I might get some stuff sent out every day.
Love to all & hoping all well,
From DB Keith
You’ll see George on Tuesday I expect – DBK
[Caithness Archive Centre reference P38/10/3. The next letter from DB Keith will be published on 8 October]