The text of this letter from David Barrogill Keith to his family in Thurso is incomplete. But from his description of the sound of the “big guns booming” and the flight of aeroplanes overhead it is clear that the Battle of Loos was still raging nearby.
He writes of rumours that they will be moved forward to the front line, and he and his other untried comrades “look with a kind of questioning wonder at the flashes across the sky” as they wonder what battle will be like: the war “may drive me insane or it may be the making of me”.
Dated: Sunday 11 October 1915, 10th Battalion Scottish Rifles, B.E.F.
My dear Mother,
I got your welcome letter this morning. I have tried to write as often as I can but we are pretty busy with one thing or another to get settled up & unfortunately my last letter to you did not get sent off as soon as it might have.
We are in a quiet place here but every day & night you hear the big guns booming, just a continuous rumbling something like the bubbles on boiling toffee, some big & some small – that’s rather an absurd metaphor but it expresses what I mean – a sort of sultry series of eruptions. And at night flashes blink for a second across the sky. Aeroplanes often come buzzing around. A series of trains with unearthly shrieks of agony in lieu of whistles & proceeding at a mild walking pace lugging interminable trucks puff along across the level crossing just as one wants to cross. Occasionally motor buses – Red X [Cross] or otherwise, a few French horsemen or a cyclist or two flit past. Otherwise things are as usual.
There are rumours pretty nearly always that we are being moved the next day, sometimes to the trenches & we look with a kind of questioning wonder at the flashes across the sky, sometimes farther back & we think of theatres & pleasant billets, but so far neither has eventuated & we are still pegging away here. & it’s not so bad. We had a church service today to the sound of guns. It’s all new & the experience of this war will if I come through all right make a tremendous difference in me. It may drive me insane or it may be the making of me.
We are starting our own Company mess here & I want you to send out or rather get Munro or one of the keepers to send out every Day a box of grouse, venison, partridges, duck, etc. anything – but enough for 4 persons, say 1 [brace] grouse today & partridges or duck or venison – just a small bit for 4 or 6 each day – can you manage that otherwise we are likely to live on bully beef. Parcels take 3 or 4 days I believe so the stuff sent should be newly killed if possible. The other fellows are getting parcels every day but it’s shortbread, cakes, honey, etc. …
[Caithness Archive Centre reference P38/10/4; the next letter from DB Keith will be published on 16 October]