Postcard from the front

Below is a letter from a soldier in the First World War sent to my Grandfather, Herbert Dutton of Atherton, Lancashire, who was buried by a shell and wounded twice in France. 

Herbert enlisted on 29th December, 1914 in the Kings Own Lancaster Regiment the age of 33 and served with the 10th Battalion of the King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment and also the Suffolk Regiment and the Lincolnshire Regiment.

A picture I have shows him as a corporal with a hammer and tongs insignia over the stripes.

A Recruiting Pass. was issued by Harold Thorp (R.O. Leith) stating that recruit Herbert Dutton would be proceeding by LNW Railway from Leigh, Lancashire to Lancaster to enlist.

His age was given as 33 years and 59 days with a height of 5 feet 5 inches and in civilian dress. He was not in possession of a Great Coat but a Ration Allowance had been paid him. Actual date of starting in the Army and from which paid was given as 2nd January, 1915.

"This Pass must be given to each Recruit as he takes his seat in the train, or embarks , with instructions to be careful to deliver it , on arrival at his destination to the Serjeant who meets him; if from the distance to be travelled he receives subsistence beyond the date of starting, it should be stated".

A Permanent Pass. was issued on 13th May, 1915, stating that "No 16721 Pte Dutton of C Company 10th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Lancaster Regiment is granted permission to be absent from his quarters daily until 10-00pm." Signed Lieut. Colonel J Bonomi. Kingsbridge

(Info from the internet -10th (Reserve) Battalion\Formed in Saltash, October 1914, as a Service battalion, part of K4\October 1914 : attached to 99th Brigade, original 33rd Division\April 1915 : became a second Reserve battalion (after the 3rd Bn)\September 1916 : became 43rd Training Reserve battalion of 10th Reserve Brigade.)

13.11.15 - Granted an additional sixpence per day whilst employed as a clerk under Article 898 Pay Warrant. Recommended by Captain C Cartmell Officer Commanding C Company.

Joined 3rd Suffolks on 25th November, 1917. He was being paid around 10 shillings a week on average. Service Number 51856 is on the side of his service medals PTE H. DUTTON SUFF.R.22nd April 1918 he left for overseas and joined the Lincolnshire Regt.

Lincolnshire Regimental Number - 52115. Rank Private.

This is when he was in the Lincolnshire Regiment - 1st Battalion. (Info from the internet - 1st Battalion\August 1914 : in Portsmouth\Part of 9th Brigade, \14 November 1915 : transferred to 62nd Brigade,)

From his notes about his war in France made in a little cloth-bound diary:

Calais - we arrived 24.4.18. Left on 26.4.18. L. Infantry Base Depot.

26.4. Billeted near Roubeke. Joined unit 30.4.

4.5. Marched 21 kilometres.

28.5. In Pevy

29.5. In Sapicourt

29.5. Bouvancourt and Cormicy

1.6. Banks of the River Marne.

Dormans- left on 8th June

Troissy - there for two days and left on the 17th June

Vassimont on 17th and 18th June

17-18.6. In action.



20.6. Arrived Andainville. Then to Fresnerville. Marched 20 miles arrived at E...k. Stayed overnight and marched 18 kilos to Villy-le-Bas. Stayed 7 days then left 7th July and marched 12 kilos to the railhead (Longroy-G...aches). Entrained in cattle trucks for Boken. Arrived at Abbeville.

Stayed in bell tents in a wood 3 days and nights Then marched to Varqueses - 17.7.

24.7.18 He was in the firing line opposite Beaumont Hamel for 17 days.Went to (Acheux?) Came back to support trench. Went over the top on 21st August and was under continuous shell and machinegun fire for 72 hours opposite River (Arne.?) Wounded 23.8.18 and buried by a shell. Went down the line to the dressing station them to convalescent camp.

(On September 5th, a form had been sent to Mrs Dutton to the effect that Pte Dutton had been admitted to Number 2 Stationary Hospital, Abbeville suffering from gunshot wounds to the hand and left leg.

On September 14th, 1918, Lieutenant W Scott of the Lincolnshire Regiment informed Mrs Frances Dutton that her husband was admitted to Number 5 Convalescent Depot at Cayeux on August 29th and that any further information as to his condition would be "at once notified to you".)

Stayed 4 weeks then left for base depot. Arrived on 28th Sept, 1918.

Convalesced until 28.9.18 then went to base depot until 5.10.18 when he left on a 24 hour train journey with no tea and no bread, arriving at Havringcourt. Stayed with Divisional wing for 3 days then proceeded to join unit on 9.10.18, marched 25 kilometres to Walincourt where they were billeted and left 13 days later to the front line where he was wounded on 24.10.18.

(From the Regimental Diary: On 23rd October, near the village of Ovillers and the River Harpies, the attack began. The jumping-off line for the attack was the road along the eastern bank of the Harpies. The 1st Battalion Lincolnshires were on the left flank of the 62nd Brigade.

The two battalions assembled in the valley north-east and north of Amerval and by 9-30am were able to go forward to the line of the River Harpies - one of the main objectives.

The advance of the 2nd Battalion was opposed by heavy shellfire and machine gun fire from Poix. There were a large number of enemy machine guns which were captured at a later stage.

The 1st Lincolnshires pushed on beside their comrades of the 2nd having first cleared the line to the River Harpies and the south-west portion of Vendegies-au-Bois.

They pushed on to the next objective - a line betwenn Vendegies and Poix where they were held up by enemy shellfire and dug in for the night having lost 15 men and 50 wounded.

At 4 am on the 24th, the 1st Battalion attacked under a heavy barrage. A Company on the right; C on the left with D in support and B in reserve.

The attack was entirely successful and by 6 am Poix and the road running from north-west to southeast beyond it was captured. with the Lincolnshires taking over 100 prisoners.

It was during this battle that Herbert was wounded and came down the line and arrived at Number 2 Canadian Gen Hospital.

He was "Marked for Blighty" 28th October, 1918.

(On 7th November, 1918 Mrs Frances Dutton was informed by the Infantry Record Office at Lichfield that Pte Dutton had been admitted to the 2nd Canadian General Hospital at Le Treport on October 25th with a gunshot wound which had caused a fracture to the left arm. )

Sailing from Le Havre he arrived in Southampton at 6 am on 3.11.18. Reached Liverpool 8pm . Convalesced in Belmont Aux. Hospital.

He was demobilised from the Lincolnshire Regiment on 24th January, 1919 and received a War gratuity of GBP23, less one pound kept back but payable on return of military greatcoat.

Transferred from 1st Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment to Reserves on 20th February, 1919. Place of Rejoining in Case of emergency - Harrowby Camp, Grantham.

Herbert originally worked in Prestwich Parker's Foundry in Atherton as a very young boy. In a photograph showing him there, he looks about 8 or 9.He started work as a miner at Cleworth Colliery, Tyldesley, on 7th February, 1919.

First six days' pay was GBP3-11s-8d. His pay varied from GBP5-6s-9d on May 2nd to GBP4-9s-0d on May 9th after working through dirt 4 feet thick. On June 13th, this improved to GBP6-9s-0d for six days and on June 21st of that year, he attended a Miners' Demonstration in Blackpool.

On March 24th, 1920, started at Chanter's Colliery, Atherton (Arley Mine) earning from GBP6-12s in May to GBP6-17s-6d on August 14th.

Shortly after, he moved to Gib Colliery (Arley Mine) and received GBP6-10s for 4 days' work, rising to GBP9-5s on December 13th. In between there was a three week-long strike during which time he received no wages.

His notes of his wages end on 14th January, 1921 when he earned GBP7-11s for five days at Fletcher's Gib Arley Mine.

Herbert died of pneumonia in 1935 aged 53, his lungs probably weakened by his time in the foundry, the pit and the trenches.

I have the original letter below. It brings home the full horror of the First World War.

If you are ever in Lancaster, be sure to visit the Regimental Museum which is part of the main museum and is absolutely brilliant.


Herbert Dutton

Herbert Dutton of the King's Own Royal Lancaster Rgt.

May 29th,1916 Monday.

Dear Old Pal,

I now take the Pleasure in writing you a few lines as I know how you will want to know my experiences in the boxing ring. Them were the days Dutton. Well, I have been in hospital with swollen feet but it was with standing in the trenches up to the knees in water. You know 8 days is a fair while to be stood up and we never got to close our eyes all the time. You might not believe it but it is true enough and the Germans sent their gas over and 78 were gassed and when the artillery start, they don't send shells, they send foundries over.

What a life Dutton. I could not make you believe what it is like. There was some mines blown up and believe me, I thought it was lights out and the ground trembled like a jelly. We were only 25 yards from the German trenches, so you will understand why we had no sleep. I had a private in my sentry group. It got on his nerves to such an extent that he went stone mad. Directly after, a shell came and hit a fellow from Nelson but he was in fragments and I picked up his top lip with his tash on. So you will have an idea of what it is like here.

Harper is here and he is no friend of the men. They do not like him. Swallow is here and Wright. As regards my first coming out here we landed at a place and stayed there about a week and we were sent up the line to another place on the 2nd of April which was a Saturday and on the Sunday, we joined the battalion and at about 4-30 the O.C. came and said we had a trench and crater to take and at 6-30 we set off to our task.

When we had gone so far, we had to get our faces blackened and off we went again. At 2-10 on the Monday morning, we had got to where we had to make the bayonet charge and before I knew where I was, I had fallen into a German trench and of course, I was a bit dazed but I soon jumped up when I heard someone shout "Mercy Comrade". It was dark and I had a job to find out where the noise was coming from, so I felt with my hand on the floor and I could just feel the head of the German. He was buried all but his head - wait for it - and then seven came walking towards me with their hands up asking for mercy but they got it. I can assure you Dutton it is no picnic going into a bayonet charge. It is not like charging sacks. Then after the charge comes the bombardment. That is worse than the charge.

Remember me to Bob Jones 42 and Sgt. Major and the Q.M., I mean Hulton. Is French with you yet?

I will draw this letter to a close with best wishes for your welfare. I will tell you what Dutton, I could do with some tackle to clean my buttons as we have to clean them when out of the trenches. So no more this time from your old pal Whit. Buck up. Write back soon Dutton as I shall not be here long. Address as follows.

Cpl T. Whittaker 16731 K.O.R.L. Regt

No 1. Convalescent Camp, Boulogne.

Photo of Mrs Whittaker and Family

Cpl Whittaker lived at 3,Barnes Court, Burnley. The faded picture above is of his wife and two children. It was taken in Hartley's Studio in Westgate, Burnley. If anyone has any information on him or his surviving relatives or if a regimental war historian has any more information on any aspect of the above, please get in touch.


HELLFIRE CORNER....This is a superb site to visit for anything to do with the First World War. Click here...