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Printed in Lancashire Evening Post | 21st January 1916

Writing to a Blackburn friend, Private Roland Shawcross, son of Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Shawcross of Wennington, formerly of Blackburn, and a member of the reporting staff of the ‘Lancashire Daily Post’, describes the latest experiences of the Preston “Pals”, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, with whom he is on active service in France.

(Author’s Note: Private Roland Waldo Shawcross had been serving in France since the 7th Bn. first landed on 17th July 1915. He survived the war and was discharged to Class Z Reserve on 6th February 1919 being granted a temporary commission as Second Lieutenant the day before. This was announced in the London Gazette on 3rd March 1919. His papers are held at TNA ref WO 374/61765.)

He says:- “The respite from trench warfare so unexpectedly curtailed has been just as suddenly continued, and we are now undergoing a course of training for the purpose of recuperation, both mentally and physically. Truly, the men are deserving of the rest. For months they have borne the brunt of trench work, manning the front line with a thoroughness and vigilance which has earned for them the highest praise. Our last sojourn in the trenches, during which we occupied a position in reserve, passed off without incident apart from constant shelling, an experience to which the men have become accustomed. As they march away from the land of sand-bags on a raw, dark January night, it is with the knowledge of duty well done. To the skirl of the pipes played by our Sergeant-major, a true Scot, the men stride out into a new life, leaving behind the dangers and hardships which have beset their path for months.

The enemy guns spit out their venomous hatred, and our guns thunder their reply. Flares illuminate the sky and the cracking of machine gun and rifle fire can be heard from the front line. What do we care for these indications of a world war now! For a brief period we have said adieu to the firing line of France. Now that our relief has arrived our thoughts are of other things. We are content to forget the mud-clogged trenches, the dug-outs, and the long night vigils. The novelty of trench life has worn away, as the result of a long period of activity in and around the front line. Therefore it can be quite understood that a change from the abnornal life is welcomed with general satisfaction. The men are in excellent condition, despite the grueling they have passed through – a period of high tension on the one hand, and monotony on the other.

A halt is called for the night in close proximity to the line and with the prospect of a long march on the morrow the company are soon wrapped in slumber. We are early on the road the following day. Swinging along to the accompaniment of hearty choruses, the battalion soon enters civilisation once again. Infantry on the march is indeed a common sight in this country. There is little or no general interest, and yet what a glorious scene! File after file, platoon after platoon, march by. Resolutely and steady they pass burdened with heavy pack. Yes, a true reflection of the unwavering spirit of the men. The mud of the trenches still clings to their clothes. Many a youthful countenance is to be seen in the ranks alongside men of experience who wear the South African bars; all doing their bit, enduring for the country they love so well.

What would the public of England give to look upon such a sight? The battalion is entering a town. The exercise after trench life is proving fatiguing. The men pull themselves together. With a steady tramp and erect figures, they march through the main thoroughfare. Straight from the trenches, the battalion naturally excites a certain amount of interest, and admiration is written on many an onlooker’s countenance. The march is drawing to a close and the piper’s music is indeed a tonic. At last our billets are reached.

What a luxury is the anticipation of a nights unbroken sleep, free from working parties and special calls to the trenches! The night is upon us and the estaminets (small cafes selling alcoholic drinks) are crowded. What an exhilarating sensation it is to be away from the devastation of war, to no longer know the mental tension of bursting shells and machine gun fire! We are beginning to forget our life as we wind our way in the darkness down the road towards our billet, when suddenly a light shoots up into the sky and gradually falls again out of sight. No, we cannot altogether forget the trenches, for the light we see is a flare far away on the front. The wind is howling and the rain sweeping down. Our thoughts go to our men on the front line.

The following day we are busily engaged cleaning our uniforms, rifles, equipment etc. and then the training commences. It is just like the days at Tidworth. But there are many new faces who have filled the gaps of the fallen; and here is the bitter sadness and tragedy of war. There are moments in our lives when the yearning for our native land brings us the longing for an early peace. Then comes the recollection of the lives that have been sacrificed, the realisation that the battle is but half won, and that we have yet to gain the goal that has to be achieved. The call rings out ‘Carry on!’ It is a call that cannot be denied. Soon, perhaps, our men will be on their way to the trenches again, back into their life of hazardous uncertainty, and with a Briton’s fortitude, cheerfulness and pluck, they will ‘Carry on’.

 

Paul McCormick
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Paul McCormick

Paul McCormick is the creator and administrator for the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment website. Since 2010 he has been researching the soldiers that served during the First World War and sharing their stories on his website. You can contact Paul through the website 'Contact Me' page or on Twitter and Facebook.
Paul McCormick
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