members of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) in
the London, England, branch of the bank enlisted in the British
Army at the outbreak of hostilities. They kept in touch by
letter with their manager, a Mr. Jones. The employees were
J. D. Palmer, N. E. Lawson and P. M. Alexander.
December 1914) Letter from J. D. Palmer
many thanks for the parcel, the contents of which were most acceptable.
Please express my thanks and appreciation to the staff.
are having a short rest today after a spell in the trenches Lawson
and Dalton [Lawson one of the other two members of the CIBC trio.
The identity of Dalton is unknown.] have been in the thick of
it but I, being an orderly attached to Headquarters, have not
done any actual fighting in the trenches. It is a terrible strain
on the men as we have struck a very bad patch in the weather
and in some cases the trenches are more than knee-deep in mud
and water. In spite of this the spirit of the men is remarkably
good and I expect it wont be long before we take another
turn there as the machine gun section has gone up again tonight.
I had an exciting experience two nights ago taking rations up
to our men in the trenches. Two companies were there, the remainder
being billetted at a farm about a mile away. We started away
about five oclock and did not get back to our barn until
12.30. It was pitch dark and raining hard all the time, and what
with snipers, shell holed filled with water, numerous ditches
and other small obstacles, the task was by no means a pleasant
or easy one. One poor chap was shot during the expedition and
we were thankful to get back, covered in mud from head to foot
and wet through.
asked father to acknowledge the previous letter from the Bank
and to let you know how I was faring, but I should now like to
say for myself how grateful I am for the generous treatment accorded
is sick and I think he is in a convalescent hospital at Boulogne.
Lawson and Dalton with me wish to be kindly remembered to yourself
and the staff. J,.D. Palmer.
December 1914 Letter from Pte N. E. Lawson
have just come through three days of absolute hell. For two days
were standing by, just behind the firing line. We had to live
in a ditch at the side of a road until the rain came down in
torrents and flooded us out. The only thing to do was to walk
up and down the road and risk the shell fire. At last they got
us into a shattered barn, but we were just settling down when
the word came to go up to the firing line. We set off, but the
officer guiding us was shot, and we came to a standstill.
the Germans opened a heavy fire and we made for some trenches,
but found them already occupied, so we had to lie down behind
for about two hours and freeze. After a bit all the platoons
went off to the firing line except ours: we were to be in support
trenches. After a bit the regulars whom we were relieving, filed
by. They were in a terrible state as the trenches were waist
deep in slush. Lots of them were crying with agony, and others
were gibbering mad. We had to take their places it was
a cheerful prospect. Out Engineer officer gave out platoon leave
if we liked to take the risk of fire, to dig new trenches for
ourselves, but the regulars tried it the night before and had
lost a man. However, we took it on and luckily did not lose a
man. We simply worked like fiends. It was fine during the day,
but later the rain came down again, and everything we had was
soaked, our clothes soaked to the skin. The water rose higher
and higher, and we had to stand for 24 hours in slush and water:
it came up over our ankles, and it was impossible to feel ones
we were relieved we had a 10 miles march back to our billets.
It was not a march but a shamble, with men dripping down at the
side of the road. The other platoons were worse than we were,
they had been waist deep in water all the time. Lots of them
were absolutely bent double with cramps, one died of exposure.
We had one shot and one wounded. I am all right myself now. I
think the march really saved me, as I could not stand up when
we first got out of our trench.
arrived home a 3 oclock yesterday morning and just flopped
down in our wet things and slept. We had had no sleep for three
THINK NEAT RUM AND CHOCOLATE WERE THE THINGS WHICH SAVE OUR LIVES.
from a third former member of the bank staff to his manager.
November 1914 Letter from P. M. Alexander
last I have time to write a little more than a mere pc. I am
afraid so far my news has been of a very scrappy nature, and
even now I cant give much detail.
begin with, I expect you would like to hear a little of my point
of view of our first battle, which caused such flaring headlines
and stirring accounts in the newspapers. As far as I was concerned
personally I moved forward with my company into action in extended
order and came under fire for the first time was we moved over
the brow of a hill across (an) open ploughed field and root crops.
Here of course we came into the view of the enemy and were immediately
met with terrible fire, including rifle and maxim, and above
all shrapnel and Jack Johnsons or Black Marias (as
the huge shells are variously called) bursting everywhere. As
they seemed to have the exact range the fire simply mowed down
our ranks and I should think that quite half of our casualties
(i.e. G Company) were caused in the first half hour. All we could
do was to lie down flat at once and make use of every scrap of
cover we could find, which was more or less nil. This first advance
was made at about mid-day. I, with the rest, lay I suppose some
10 minutes, which seemed more like hours, flattened on the ground,
bullets whizzing round my ears with a buzzing sound, just like
so many wasps and bees. Then the chap on my left was hit through
the body and lay groaning and various men around exclaiming they
were hit. Well the only thing we could do was to advance, so
as the order came, up we jumped and dashed another 30 or 40 yards
forward and down again. Our object was to reinforce the trenches
some way in front of us, rather on our left flank, from which
direction the maxim fire was heaviest. At this time, as one of
our officers and several NCOs were hit we could again get no
actual orders passed down the line, so we were left to act, more
or less, on our own initiative. So up we got again, still under
the same terrific fire and made another dash and a few of us
reached the trenches were held by the Carbineers. Others had
to retire a little to a hedge where they re-formed under an officer
and started to dig themselves in.
was one of the lucky ones, among those who reached the advanced
trenches first. I simply flung myself in (the trench was five
feet deep with 3 ft head cover in front) and was only too glad
to lie down in the bottom for a bit for a breather and to collect
my thoughts a bit. The regulars there were simply fine fellows
and soon bucked us up with their little jokes and kind attentions
and very soon we were up again and blazing away at the German
trenches some 400 yards in front, with the best. Well there I
remained all day (i.e. 31st October Halloween) potting
at Germans when the showed themselves, and our trenches simply
bombarded with heavy shell and shrapnel fire. Part of the trench
was blown in by a J.J. and we had to dig it out again,
and several of our chaps and the regulars too were hit. As it
got dark the shell fire slackened and almost ceased and we were
able to move about a little to stretch cramped limbs and to fetch
water from a farm immediately on our left. We had some of our
wounded there and I gave a hand to our medical officer dressing
one of our lieutenants who was shot through the cheek and ear
and a scalp wound too from shrapnel.
about 11 p.m. I lay down in the trench to try and get a short
rest, sentries being on the qui vive. At midnight
we were suddenly alarmed that the enemy were advancing in great
force all along the line and we immediately stood to our rifles.
It is at this point that our further doings coincide more or
less with newspaper reports. The enemy were swarming into the
farm on our left in no time and out we rushed from the trenches
we had occupied all day and sprinted into the farm-yard and dodging
behind barns, haystacks and outbuildings took pot shots at every
German we could see, at the same time fixing bayonets in readiness
for emergencies. We were only a handful of men here so couldnt
attempt to hold the advance, merely to check it, so eventually
fell back on another line of trenches immediately behind a farmhouse
some 50 yards away. The whole farm, barns and stacks were set
alight by the enemy and it burst away as a huge beacon, lighting
up everything all around all night. The effect of this fire was
to break the frontal attack and to cause their lines to advance
each side of the farm along hedges, with our trenches in the
centre of them and we had no difficulty in checking them here.
Simply mowing them down with rifle fire as they advanced en masse
lit up by the flames. What rifle fire would not do, we found
a little persuasion with cold steel had the desired result. We
ourselves unfortunately were suffering pretty badly all this
time, fellows falling all around. We held on to this trench until
7 a.m. the next morning (Sunday 1st November) when as we were
surrounded more or less on three sides we had orders to retire,
which we did down a small valley through copses and across fields
for about 2 miles, through an inferno of maxim fire and rifle
fire. On our way back we met strong English re-enforcements and
it turned out that we had held the German attack just long enough
for these to arrive in time to finish the repulse of the enemy.
This account is but an outline of my point of view, but almost every man has
a different story to tell. Other companies were in reserve to begin with and
saw more bayonet fighting than my company and never got into the trenches,
but we all had quite enough and more. The village referred to in printed reports
was the centre of attack, but our fighting was in no way limited to it, as
it would seem from all accounts.
find I have already drawn this account out to an awful length
and fear the censor will hardly let all this through, so mustnt
give any details now of further 5 days in trenches we have had
since. That must wait.
the moment we are a safe way from (the) firing line although
we can still hear big guns rumbling away in the distance. I am
in a very comfortable billet in an old farm house. Just 10 of
us together and the good people who live here are just kindness
and hospitality itself. We are all fast reviving with the aid
of plenty of good food and sleep. I am feeling very fit now and
enjoying the country holiday.
very cold here and the countryside has been covered with several
inches of snow for the last 3 days now and it still freezes hard.
I have plenty of clothes, having had lovely warm vest, service shirt
and socks served out. P. M. Alexander.