On Active Service
With the British
[Name] Mr J Knowles [No] 176
June Thursday 10 
Dear wife another line or too to let you now I am all Right so far but going on now how yet I should like to have another night in bud wonce more it is very hard lyind on bords but never mind I have got to put up with it now but I shall be very glad when it is over we ham inspecting to go in the trenches to night it is very hot you can ear the shells wising about all about you should see the poor people about Children asking for a penny tell tom bailey he ourt to be ear to understand the langue if I stop heare I shall never understand them when they toulk to me I keep on saying yes and noding my head at them Dear wife I should like to have a letter from you to now how things are going on all right as I am very on easy till I can hear from you as things ant going very well with me at presant I am sitting on the roade side righting this letter we sleep in a barn with grate holes on top of it but I have not seen nobedy I know yet hear we landed at our bilet yesterday Wensday June 9 Dear wife tell my sons we are close to the big guns and people walk about as if it was bonyfire night but never mind them as long as we can dodge them we are in the thick of it but we shall try to do our best as long as we can to try and shift them we Dear wife I have got 10/- shillings in my pocket I wish you had got it as it is no good to me out hear as the beer is like soapsuds and only a penny a glass but it wont be much as I shall have of it when we go to work the goes 16 of us to geather 8 of us work and the other Reast in trenches till they have don their work then when we get Back to our bilet we have 36 hours of but it is very wet in the tunles it is very nasty work so I think I have tould you all the news this time so I shall have to close my letter with sest love to all at Home rember me to my doughters and tell them I shall be glad when we meet again I shall not act shoulders again rember me to dad and mother and tell them all the news tell little harel to be good boy till I come Back I shall bring im a flip flap Dear wife write and let me now all the news as soon as you can to this adress so good night and god bless you all I hope he will and me so no more this time from your Dear Husband Jack Kisses for the Children xxxxxxxxxxxxxx and your self XXXXXXXX
- Grandad Knowles elisted in the Royal Engineers May 27, 1915. The family story is, that he was out with his mates one night when they all got drunk and enlisted in a mood of sentimental patriotism. (There was no conscription in Britain until January 1916, and that was only for single men, so Grandad would have been exempt. In fact, though nobody could prevent miners from enlisting, they were discouraged from doing so, for fear of the impact on coal production. "Munition workers and coal miners could not be prevented from succumbing to patriotic emotions when enlistment was voluntary. The military authorities had to reject them when conscription went through." — A.J.P. Taylor, English History 1914-1945.) Grandad was discharged December 23 that same year "in consequence of not being likely to become an efficient soldier (on medical grounds)." His discharge papers are here. He served 211 days with the colors. Miners were employed by the R.E. for tunnelling purposes. The idea was to dig a tunnel, pack it with high explosive, and blow a hole in the enemy's line. Then your troops could rush through the hole and take the enemy from the rear. This hardly ever worked, but both sides kept doing it anyway.
- "bonyfire night": The night of November 5, traditionally marked in England by lighting bonfires. This is supposed to be in commemoration of the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. The idea of the Plot was to blow up the Houses of Parliament while the King (James I) was attending the opening of Parliament the following day. Guy Fawkes was arrested in the vaults of Parliament on the night of November 4 as the result of an anonymous letter. Effigies of Guy Fawkes — "the only honest man that ever got into Parliament," according to my father — are burned on the bonfires … though in fact the lighting of bonfires at this time has much older roots. Note that Grandad's spelling is closer to the original etymology — bone fires — than the modern, normal one.
- "shoulders": He means "soldiers."
- "harel": My uncle Harold, at this point five or six years old.
- "flip flap": A child's plaything, common in England until at least my own childhood. Consists of an isosceles right triangle of stiff card and an identical one of paper joined along their hypoteneuses. The whole thing is then folded along that same line, then folded again along the bisector of the right angle, with the card on the outside and the paper folded inside. Now you hold the thing by the right-angle corner and bring it down sharply. The paper inside flies out with a SNAP. (We called them "snappers.")