Friday, 15 July 2016


Major John English, 9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, the DLI Collection
Major John English, 9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, the DLI Collection
The almost daily letters that Major John English of 9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, wrote home to his wife throughout that May were deposited in Durham County Record Office. They have been transcribed by volunteers and you can read them on Durham at War

On 6 May 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, 9th Battalion, were a few miles back from the fighting on rest. The letter that Major English wrote this day shows an appreciation of the brief moments of peace that he was able to capture. This letter also caught the imagination of poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy who has been commissioned to write the words for a new suite of hymns for County Durham. The premiere performance of the Durham Hymns takes place on 16 July 2016 at Durham Cathedral where you will be able to hear the hymn ‘Oranges’ based on the letter below.

6 May 1915
My darling lassie,
It is 11.30am on a lovely hot morning and I am lying on a blanket in a beautiful green grass field all dotted with dandelion and a herd of cows grazing all round. I am sitting under the shade of a tree with chocolate to eat and papers to read and nothing to do. This is the strenuous life I like and if you had only been here. We are always wishing for something to drink. I never drank their water as I am suspicious about it, now, just at this moment, a man and his wife have come into the field shouting oranges. What luck and what yells of delight. I must resume after having eaten four. What fun it is trying to beat these hawkers down. He charged 1d each for them. We asked him why he was not a soldier and he produced his papers, he is exempt on account of a lamed leg. 

The men of D Company are in the next field separated by a wire fence and it is dotted with fruit trees in full bloom. They have washing hanging up everywhere and bivouacs erected and really the scene is quite a pretty and peaceful one, still we can hear the guns booming in the distance and as for aeroplanes we have ceased to take any notice of them. There was a terrific bombardment last night and it appears the Germans bombarded Poperinghe and set it on fire. They did a lot of damage I hear. I have got my bivouac valise erected in this field and intend to sleep out tonight. I did not last night as it was threatening to rain heavily, however it blew over … 

I have not much to say today my darling as we are leading such a simple life, but just to have a little chat to you. I am longing for your loving chatty letters and they seem so far between. They aren’t really, I have had four from you, but the post is most erratic. There was no post last night and none has arrived so far this morning. I do wish they would hurry up as I am longing for yours darling. I hear when we have rested we are going to a very cushy place in the line, but it is only hearsay and possibly the authorities do not know themselves where we will go ... Bye bye my darling girl. God bless and keep you safe and our son.
Your Jock.

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