A World War I Letter
from Herman Swindell
to his Mother
Sarah Ann Rebecca Swindell
Submitted by Robert K. "Bob" Williams, Jr.
FRANCE, DECEMBER 4, 1918
I'm well & hope this will find you all the same. I received several letters from you one day this week written in Sept. & Aug. I've heard from you several times since I came back from the hospital. All the mail I had to come while I was in the hospital was sent there but I left before it reached me & it was about three weeks getting back.
We've had some very cold weather about two weeks ago. The ground was frozen very hard for several days but is warmer now. It rains nearly every day. I've forgotten how a fair day looks. I haven't got a card to send you so you can send a package xmas but I hope we will be in the states by xmas or shortly afterward. I can tell you most anything I care to now. Our letters are not censored now. I will tell you something about war & where we were at so if you get a map of France you can see.
Out of the first six months we were over here we spent about five months in the lines. We were attached to the Fourth British Army & spent all of our time on the British side. I've never seen the American sector at all. We wore their clothes & eat their rations which were very poor & scarce. We had more corned beef & hard tacks than anything else. We eat hard tacks that were made in 1914. They were as hard as a rock. We had to beat them up with our bayonets & soak them in water until they got soft enough to eat. We are back in the American Army now eating our own food & wearing our clothes. Every body was happy to get out of the British Army.
We spent most of our time around Ypses & Popperringe. I spent several days in the cellar of an old house in Ypses. We broke the Hindinberg Line down on the Cambria & St. Gurentin front. The front that the Huns said couldn't be broken.
We went over the top on Sunday morning Sept. 29th at 5:50 oclock. We had three days to think about what we had to do before going over. Like every one else I did some broad thinking and good praying. About an hour before going over we marched up within a hundred yards of the Huns front line. He had what we call out posts in no-mans land, that is machine gun post and listening post so we had to keep very quiet. I was in a shell hole with one of our Lieut. and went over the top with him. I prayed just before the time to go over. When the time came one shell came over as a Signal & then the barrage started. It fell just in front of us a few yds. The whole earth was as light as day. One shell fell right in the middle of our battalion just a few feet from where I was. I looked up & saw legs, arms, heads, rifles & packs all flying in the air. When the barrage lifted we followed it very close & lost lots of men by our own barrage, but we knew that before we started. Its best to stay close to it even though it does get some of our own men. Our Captain was killed just as we started. We also had a smoke screen in front of us so the huns couldn't see us coming, but shortly afterwards a heavy fog came up & that & the smoke made it impossible to see a foot in front of us. I fell in several shell holes & deep trenches, & often I would stumble over dead soldiers & fall right on top of them some yanks & huns. In some places I walked across dead bodies & not even touch the ground. We came across several short trenches, some of them lined with dead & walk over them like going over a bridge. We went over the top nine times in about a week, I mean my Reg. I only went over twice. The first morning we went over we had about two hundred & seventy five men & when the Co. came out it had seventeen so now can tell something about what it is to go over the top. I prayed in every shell hole I stopped in,. I kept my nerve & held a very good head all the way through. There wasn't any body who needed someone to tell him to pray. I don't believe that there was one out of the several thousand who didn't pray & he did it more than once too. Old Gambles who had never been known to pray & who didn't know how learned how in a very few minutes & put up a good prayer. There is lots more I would tell you about but will wait until next time or until I come on home & don't believe that is very long.
Well the war is over now & I'm living in just as good a physical condition now as I was when you saw me last so don't let what I've just told you worry you at all. I'll tell you where I am at now. I'm in a little village named Mizieres about eighteen miles south of Le Mans. I think this is a very good letter so will close. I'm going to write to every one in the family this week if I have time.
Hope you will be better satisfied when you move back home. I never did think you liked the country very much especially the place you were at.
When I sent my clothes home from camp I told you that I was going to wear them out & I feel now like I will so save them.
Give my love to all,
Your Son Herman
I belong to that fighting Co. of that fighting battalion from that fighting Reg. of the fighting Division in the U.S. Army. Which is the 30th Division. The war is over now & we haven't stopped fighting yet.
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