Letters home from Private Robert Templeton

Receiving letters was crutial for morale in the trenches
Receiving letters was crutial for morale in the trenches

During September, The Galloway Gazette has featured the last letters home from Private Robert Templeton in the last month of his life. The popular farmer’s son from Broadfield, Wigtown, died on September 26, 1917, after just under a year serving with the Cameronians, 5th/6th Scottish Rifles, in the Great War.

The Templeton family in Wigtown have kindly loaned The Galloway Gazette all his letters home to his mother his sister Jessie, brother John and friend Walter, while he was serving in France.

Here are more of his thoughts and hopes during that difficult time for both him and his family in 1917, 100 years ago:

January

“Dear Mother

I had your parcel with the shirt and drawers in and I was very glad to see it I can tell you, for what we had on was not very clean! I could do with another shirt if you could send it on. An old one will do fine, or any kind as long as they are clean.

I have been very bad with cold for the last few days. I am a little better today, but it has been raw weather for the last few days.

I have not had any word from any of you for a bit. I hope to hear soon as it helps to make you feel you are still in the land of the living.

How’s things going at home? I have not had an answer from John (his brother) yet, but I expect he will be getting on all right. He will have plenty to do. Tell him to write soon as I like to get a letter from him.

Yours with love Bob”

March

“Dear Mother

I am writing you a few lines just now as I have a little time to spare. We are being kept very busy now in the spring advances and things are a bit difficult just now with the soft ground. It would be good job if it would dry up a bit. I got some ointment and head soap in the last parcel, so you need not send any more for a while and I have a spare shirt yet, so I am not bad for clothes for a bit now. You might send me a box of Vaseline as it is handy for sore hands and such like. Hope the weather keeps nice and open now and lets the work get on.

Your loving son Bob”

“Dear Mother

You seem to be getting busy again with the cows now. It is a shame that Johnny (his mother’s farm hand) was called up, but you will never be able to do without him. You would not be able to get on at all.

Well, things are a bit hard just now with the mud. I had a parcel last night with shirt, socks, candles and sweets in it - and two apples. They seem to keep better with clothes than in any other parcel, and the ones with clothes come soonest too, whatever may be the reason for it.

We may have to do a day or two (in the frontline) before the spell is finished, so I am taking the chance of writing when I have it. There is nothing you can send me more than what you are sending, except some (lice) powder or ointment for the shin if you can get it anywhere handy.

Yours with love Bob”

“Dear Mother

I am taking the chance of writing to you today when I have a *green envelope. We don’t get one often so I am taking the chance when I get it. I hope you get all the letters I send as they are censored, but I am careful to put nothing of any importance in them, so I think they should be all pass.

Well, I got the parcel you mentioned in your last letter all right. It came last night and I enjoyed it all right. We had no bread yesterday, just biscuits. The apples were a bit decayed and it had not been long on the road, but it is the food does it. They keep better along with a shirt. I am all right for shirts and socks for a bit now and I got the tube of lice stuff and head soap all right too. You needn’t trouble sending me any more salmon as it must cost you more than it is worth, and I hear it is going to be stopped coming over for the sake of shipping. Instead of it and the scones, you might put in a bit of bread, ordinary loaf. You know we are not getting enough out here and it will be cheaper than salmon and more eating in it. A small tin of cocoa is all right, just like the one I got in this parcel, it is big enough for me. A few sweets and a bit of bun or dumpling is all I want in the sweet line. Of course, I know that is giving you trouble to get them, but I am grateful for whatever is sent, no matter what it is.

Your loving son Bob.”

*(Letters from soldiers on active service were subjected to censorship by their junior officers to ensure that details such as location and military objectives were not disclosed. However, as a privilege, soldiers were given one green envelope per month in which they could send uncensored personal and private letters to loved ones).

“Dear Mother

I had a parcel from Jessie the other day and she send a few black balls. They were fine as you can’t get any out here.

The weather is very cold just now, very frosty today and the ground hard. I hope you are getting better weather at home now for the sowing as it is coming near the time for it.

PS - I had your letter last night and was sorry you could not get the syrup, but it can’t be helped when things are getting so scarce at home. It is just the same here, even worse. I think the French are not allowed to give us any bread now. This is a new order entailing total prohibition to us. However, we must just do the best we can with what we get.

Your loving son Bob.”

“Dear Mother

A few lines when I have time. I have got round to writing a few letters this week and I know you will be pleased to get them. Just the same as I look for yours. It is the only way of keeping in touch with home.

Well, I received the parcel with the roast fowl in it and it was in splendid condition and had not been long on the road. I had the best tea since I came out here and a good bit left for today. I must thank you very much for it. We are moving today for two or three days more in the line and then we may get a spell down the line a bit for a rest and we need it badly I can tell you. It is snowing hard here today so you can imagine what the trenches will be like.

I am getting my parcels all right just now, it was Jessie’s parcel I had yesterday. The butter was splendid but, as I was saying, I would rather you sent me a small loaf instead of salmon, as it will suit me better and be handier for you and sometimes when I get the butter I have not enough bread to use it with. But I will leave it to you and see what suits you best. I am in good health here despite all the drawbacks we have here, and they are many. However, grumbling won’t help any, so just make the best of it.

With best love Bob.”

May

“Dear Mother

I had your letter tonight and had two parcels last night. One of them dated 27th and the other 4th of this month. I was glad to have them as I had an idea some of them had gone west.

I am glad you had good luck with the foal - it should be a good one. My thumb is about all right now, there was a splinter in it. We are moving tomorrow so it may be some time before I can write again. I am writing this in a hurry as we have been out all day and the letters are just going for censor, so I have not much time.

I am always glad to hear from you as it is the only thing I have to look forward to.

Your loving son Bob”

Dear Mother

I had your letter the other day. Glad to hear of things going so well with you. We have been in another attack on Sunday 20th. We took part of a German trench. It was a hot time for three days holding it until it was sorted up as it was badly smashed with shells. We are badly in need of a rest. There is only the one officer left now in the company, the rest are wounded. I was very lucky indeed as there was a lot of sniping and it is mostly a finish up if he gets you.

It is very hot just now and I am feeling it a bit. I would like you to send me a shirt, a light one with no lining will do fine. I am not wearing drawers now.

You were saying that you had a good while to wait on my letters. Well, you see, when we are up here it is not easy to write very often as we are so busy with one thing and another. We have to make our own huts just now with anything you can get, so we have plenty to do, and there is always a working party on now and again. There is no rest here.

Well, this is the most of my news just now. We may have to go up again I hear. I think they mean to finish us this spell.

Hope you are all well at home

Yours with love Bob”

June

“Dear Mother

I had your letter today and I cant tell you how sorry I am to hear of you being ill, but I hope you will soon be better. I expect you will have been working too hard. You will have to take good care of yourself.

I am glad father has Broadfield clear. He has done very well indeed for the time and fancy Joe (a farm horse) making such a good price. He was quite right to sell him as he would never have got a better market for him, although he was a fair good beast. (probably Joe was sold to the British Army for war work). I expect you will have Paddy yet. He is a good worker and very useful.

We were on a working party last night. We carried bombs up to the frontline for the boys who were there. I think our boys (the Cameronians) go in tonight to relieve them but I am with the reserve party this time which only does working parties. They are bad enough and you run a good chance of getting a few shells going up and down. You also have a long road to walk there and then get a load to carry up the trenches. We had about four stones each for nearly two miles and not open ground, but in a narrow way, so you may guess we were glad to get there, and then about four miles to walk back. Not a bad night’s work.

Yours with love Bob”

“Dear Mother

I am writing to let you know I am on a course of instruction on the Lewis Gun. It is a good rest out of the trenches anyway, but the worst of it is I will get no word from home until I get back (to the Battalion). So don’t send any parcels until I get back as I won’t get them. The boys just divide them up of course. It is the same with any of the others that are not there. And I have been lucky at other people’s expense many a time. It is sad sometimes when we come out (of the frontline) and some of the boys are killed and letters and parcels come for them you see. We claim whatever may come for them.

We came here yesterday, eight of us. Two out of each Company. We had all been on duty for eight hours when we were told to get ready and come down here, and it is about 12 or 14 miles anyway, maybe more. We were fair done up and I just lay down as soon as I got some tea and had a round of the clock sleep. I am feeling all right today. We are not doing much here, mostly lectures. I expect, however, it is better then carrying up bombs to the trenches anyway.

Your loving son Bob”

July

“Dear Jessie (sister)

I was glad to hear of you getting on so well, you are lucky to be getting your hay finished up while the weather is good. I had a letter from mother saying they were starting at Dalreagle and getting on all right in spite of labour difficulties. You can give me regards to any of the Wigtown people who are asking for me. Tell father I will keep a good look out for the plums when they come. I am glad they are a good crop this year.

How is old Jamie getting on? He will be busy just now with the hay. Willie was telling me he has not got the better of losing Paddy yet (one of the farm’s other horses was also taken by the army for war work).

We have no word of moving out yet from here, but it won’t be long now.

Your affe (tionate) brother Bob”

“Dear Mother

I have received a parcel today from Jessie which contained a writing pad, which was very welcome. I had been mouching writing paper for some time back. Jessie was saying they were busy with the hay and a good lot done. I hope you get good weather for it as it is the main thing.

We still have no word or a move but it can’t be long till we get our marching orders. We have had a good spell (in rest) this time and it will do us good. It is very hot just at present. I felt very squeamish today. I think the heat is the cause of it. It makes me turn sick sometimes but I have to put up with that.

Your affe son Bob”

“Dear Jessie

I had you parcel today. You mentioned one with some oranges in it. I think it must have gone west as the last one I had a towel in it and no oranges. I don’t want you to send any more of the thin black socks as they are no good at all. There was a hole in them the first day.

I hope all my friends about Wigtown are keeping well.

Your affe brother Bob”

“Dear Mother

I an glad to hear you are getting help with your housework for I know how it tires you out. I had a letter from Wat (his friend who worked on the family farm) saying he is helping with the hay.

We are having a perfect downpour of rain today. It will do a lot of good to the crops are they were beginning to burn a bit.

The Red Cross sale had been a great success after all. D Frew is a good hand for a job of that description.

We will be leaving here in a day or two and going the Lord knows where.

Your loving son Bob”

“Dear Walter (the farm hand)

I had your letter yesterday and was very pleased to hear from you. I had a laugh over your mention of ‘Old Hugh’! You were saying you were at Wigtown. There won’t be many knocking about now.

We are having a great thunderstorm just now. We were at church and got a bit wet. This is a result of the heat we were having up to now. The boys were kidding on that old ‘Fritz was coming over when we heard the thunder. It was a bit like his guns.

I hope you continue to have good weather for the hay and get it up all right. How is John getting on with his new reaper? Is it a good one? He will be busy as usual. Tell him I was asking for him and Lizzie. Is Wigtown Show going on this year? I have not heard any word of it but I don’t suppose there will be anything going if there is one! It used to be a great day, but that is of the past.

We are leaving here soon, about two days more will be all. We have had a fair good time here. We had our photos taken last week, but have only seen a proof. I hope to get them soon.

I remain your sincere friend Bob”

August

“Dear Mother

Jack Wallace has gone to hospital today. He got into trouble for not reporting sick sooner. He is very bad with boils on his legs. You have no idea what some of the boys are like when their shin breaks out. I was very sorry for him. He was in a bad state. His clothes were sticking to his shin. However, he is all right now and sure of a good rest and may miss a spell in the line.

Thanks for the shirt and socks. They were very welcome as they prevent one from being foot sore like some of them. It would give you a fright to see their feet.

We are to be here for a bit and then move up for some other push I expect, that is what is being talked about here anyway. This is Sunday so we have been to church and had a good sermon from the divisional minister as our own is on leave. It will be a while before I get leave, however, it will wear in some way.

Tell John (his brother) to write if he can find time. I feel for him so busy at home. All the same, he is better off than me, he has no lice to bother him and always a bed to go to. I am glad he is not to come here.

I was sleeping one night in the trenches and I seemed to see him and father coming up the trench. I got an awful fright until I realised it was only a dream. But I would not like to meet any of you here, at least in the trenches anyway. The man who does not look after himself does not live long.

Your loving son Bob”

“Dear Mother

We have been warned to put no information about any movements of the battalion, whether it was in the line or not. It is a rule I have always observed as the penalty for doing so is very heavy and does you no good, so I will confine myself to only what concerns myself. I am in good health so far and hope to continue as it is not a very healthy country at present. We are having very dry weather this last few days it is better than the rain for us.

You are not to worry about me and I an all right and will write as often as I can.

Your affe son Bob”

“Dear Jessie (his sister)

I am writing you a few lines to pass the time till tea. We are having a big day tomorrow. I don’t know what events will be, but it will mean a route march for us with our packs on. However, it is all in a day’s work. It is very hot today and we had wet shirts when we finished drill. Be sure and send me more health salts as they are very handy for the hot weather. We are likely to be here for some time yet. It is a nice village and we don’t get the chance of coming down as far as this very often.

Your affe brother Bob”

“Dear John (his brother)

I got your letter today and it does me a lot of good to hear how you are getting on. You were saying you had heard that Jack Wallace was wearying to be back among us. I have no doubt of that. It’s always the way here. If you are sent away from the Battalion it’s like going away from home. We know all the boys here and you don’t make friends like them anywhere, I can tell you.

I’m glad you are getting the hay in and I was glad to hear of Lily (the horse), being such a good carter and doing so well with you. She is worth looking after. I always knew she’d be a far better mare than her mother. How will you be off for foals next year? You will have old Flora anyway as she is yeld (not in foal) this year.

Your affe brother Bob”

“Dear Mother

I had a parcel from the Crouse this week and wrote thanking them for it, it was very kind of them. There is a lot of trouble with the mail here as there is so much of it to handle. Tell Johnny to stick in and do his best, as we will have to do ours. Look after Dinah’s foal, she should have a good one, and wee Blacky too.

PS - you might send me some of the vermin stuff you send before. It is very handy as the shin gets fired with so much salt meat, and I have had a few more boils on my neck too.

Your affe son Bob”

September

“Dear Mother

I am writing you today as we are not very busy today cleaning up after the spell in the trenches. We are out for some time now and I hope the weather will keep good. It is raining just now, not a very good look out for the crops here. They are nearly all cut but have a lot to put in the stack yet. I am sure a good week would make all the difference to farmers and save an immense lot of grin for the country. However, it is all in good hands, and we can only hope for the best. I have not had any word from you for some days now, but I hope to have a letter today. In the last one you said you were having bad weather for stacking (the hay). I have seen it the same many a time before and a good harvest after all.

“You were saying the cows were doing very poorly this year. I suppose the cold weather will have been responsible, combined with the long dry spell in the early summer. Things are not looking very bright, it does not matter what way we look. Hope it improves soon.

“The parcel with the razor strap has gone west as I never got it. I will have to close now as it’s mail time.

With love from your affe (tionate) son Bob

PS - tell John and Wat that I will be pleased to get a letter from then when they have time.”

Your affe son Bob”

“Dear Mother

I got your letter today and I was glad to hear of you having nearly finished with the hay. I know it is a slow job if the weather is unsuitable but the last few days have been grand harvest days and I hope they are the same with you at home.

“I have not received your letter with the money yet. It must have been delayed in some way. It would have come in handy now as we are in rest billets. A fine country place, one of the best parts of France I have seen yet.

“I am glad you had the photos all right. One of the boys has been killed since then. The only one out of our platoon last spell up (in the frontline). But not one of my section however, they are all safe yet. I am glad to say.

“I have not had any word from Jessie for some time now but she will be busy I expect. I can’t look for many letters during harvest, when you are all so busy. I am glad that all the animals are doing so well, especially the horses. It will be a great day for me when I see them again.

Your affe son Bob.”

“Dear Mother

I am writing you a few lines today when I have time. We were on a route march today and it was very hot but it was not a long one, and a good job, as most of the boys have had plenty of it. It is different walking with nothing to carry as with a pack on. I had a letter from Uncle John a day or two ago and he seemed to be getting on all right. He was saying you had a good crop of weeds this year. But it is impossible for you to manage to get them under control when you have so few hands, and so much to do.

“Well, the weather is much improved now and I hope it will continue for a good while, as it will give you a chance to get finished up early. I had a letter from Jack Wallace (his comrade and friend) and he was saying he was out of hospital and down at the base and expects to be joining us in a few days. He seems to be glad to get back to us again. He has had a good rest anyway. I have not had any letters for a few days but I am looking for some today, and hope John has time to write me a line soon.

We have had no word of a shift from here yet but will hardly be long now. With love to all.

Your affe son Bob.”

“Dear Mother

I had two parcels from Jessie today and the plums were fine I must say. I was very pleased to get them and they were in fine condition. I also received the razor strap. I was sorry you had to go to the trouble and expense of getting another one, but you must understand that there is a lot of handling to go through before they reach us and accidents happen. It is a wonder we get so many (parcels) safely.

“I had the paper also and I am glad you are getting better weather now and I hope it lasts. You seem to be getting on so well with the new binder, such a success. The old one never was the plan. It was too heavy. Many a sore back I had at it. I see plenty of the same make out here and they work well.

“I am not needing anything in particular just now. I will let you know if there is. I had no letter from John. He will be too busy I suppose and has too much to do just now.

“We have been getting it pretty hard this last day or two and will soon be on the move again.

With love, your affe son Bob.”

“Dear Mother

“We have been on the move for three days and have not had an opportunity of getting any letters away. We did a very big march yesterday, but did not come far today and I expect there will be a post today. I had a letter two days ago and I was glad to hear of you getting on so well, and I hope by the time this reaches you that you will have a good lot of the corn in as it has been fine weather for harvesting for a number of days back and I only hope you are able to take advantage of it.

“We are on our way to the trenches now, and as it is a good deal colder now, a pair of socks won’t go wrong, but I am not in a great hurry. The ones I have are rather thin and the marching is sore on them.

“Well, I hope this finds you well and getting on all right. Write soon......your loving son Bob”

That was Bob’s last letter home to his mother. He was killed on September 26th, 1917, aged 26. He is one of thousands of World War One servicemen who have no known grave but whose name is engraved on the Tyne Cot Memorial in Flanders.