The History of Leith

March 31, 2012


Letter from Lieut. Malcolm Smith.
\1tli December 1915.
DEAR MR. SWAN—I have often wondered if you ever
heard from any members of the 7th out here, and I
daresay you will have ; but I thought I would give you
a few lines to let you know how we are getting on, as
I know you will always be interested in our doings.
Well, if you were to see us now, you would find us vastly
changed from the smart battalion which used to fill
South Leith Church. The greatest change is in our
numbers, for we are sadly reduced, chiefly through sickness.
We lost a great many officers and men through
dysentery in the hot weather, jaundice in the autumn,
and now that the-winter is upon us we get some terribly
cold spells, and quite a number of the men were sent
to Hospital with frostbite. Those of us who are left
are the die-hards, and I don’t think anything short of
shells and bullets can harm us. The men are simply
splendid. They have to put up with great hardships,
but they do so in the most cheerful manner, and you
never hear a complaint, and the kindness and consideration
they show to each other is something I shall never
forget. Apart from the dangers of warfare, we are
living under conditions none of us ever experienced at
home. We had tropical heat to begin with, which
gradually changed ‘to cold which I certainly never
knew the equal of before. Three weeks ago when we
were in the trenches we had several days of heavy rain
which changed to snow with a hard frost. For about
a week the contents of our water-bottles were frozen
solid. All the wells were likewise, and before any cooking
could be done it took hours to thaw the water-tins.
We lived, or rather starved, on cold bully beef and ha^rd
biscuits, but we managed to pull through it somehow,
and now we are enjoying milder weather, and plenty
of food. Our sufferings, of course, were greatly increased
through absence of shelter, for the only protection we
had from the elements was the shelter of our waterproof
ground sheets, and that was rather scanty. Of
course we have been living in the open ever since we
lauded, until last week, when we were in the Rest Camp
and were housed in winter dugouts with corrugated iron
roofs—that the nearest approach to a house we have
had so far, and it was the first solid roof I have been
under since I landed here on 18th August.
I don’t know if we were’ ever considered a smart
battalion at home. So far as appearances go, we could
hardly be called that here ; in fact you would hardly
know vie were the same unit. I think that “warworn”
would faithfully describe us, especially when
we come down to the Rest Camp after four days in the
firing line, unwashed and unshaven, loaded up like
camels with all our various goods and chattels. A
few of the men still wear their sun helmets ; some have
very worn glengarries, but most of us wear the woolly
cap comforters as headgear. Nearly every one wears
his greatcoat, as it is easier carried that way, and clothing
and equipment are all stained with mud and clay.
Still in spite of the appearance the right spirit is there
You would read in the papers about our little show
on 15th and 16th November, when we captured several
Turkish trenches. The whole affair was very well
planned, and the men surpassed themselves by the
splendid way they carried it out. They were simply
beyond all praise, and I felt proud to belong to the
same battalion. We had a very hard week of it then,
for we had a great deal of heavy rain, and the Turks
counter-attacked several times. It meant unceasing
vigilance every night, and we were all pretty well
worn out by the time we got down to the Rest Camp
a week later. Our losses were slight compared to
what we inflicted on the Turks, but poor Flett was
killed, and we miss him very much. Now that he is
gone I am the last of the seven officers whom you bade
farewell to at the Waverley Station- on Sunday night
the 1st August still with the battalion : two of the
others are on special duty, and the remainder have
all been invalided. I am glad to say that I have kepf
very fit all the time, but it is now four months since
I landed, and as I have been under fire all the time,
I am beginning to feel that a short rest away from the
sound of guns wouldn’t come amiss. The Colonel and
all the officers and men are very fit at present, but we
wrould all like to see this thing over and get back to
home and safety again, but at present I can see no
likelihood of the War being finished here for a very
long time, and I just hope that the good fortune which
has guarded me so far will continue to do so till we
finish the job.
We had a very nice Church Parade last Sunday night
at the Rest Camp. Our padre now is a Mr. Semple,
U.F. C. He is a missionary in these parts in normal
times. It was most impressive to listen to the old
psalms and hymns we knew so well at home being sung
out here. It took our minds back-,to happier times
and places. Church Parades for us«at least have been
few and far between. I have only been able to attend
two, but they are greatly appreciated by all of us.
Well, Mr. Swan, I have tried to give you a small idea
of the life we lead out here. It is a very hard life, but
I think it must have a beneficial effect on those of us
who are spared to return. We shall appreciate our
friends and our homes more than we ever did before.
I only wish I saw some chance of our home-coming in
the future, but I can’t.
We are in the trenches jit -present—two companies in
the firing line, and two in the reserve trenches. I am
in the latter at present, and am sharing a dugout with
Bruce -Allan. We have made ourselves as comfortable
– as we can, and we are having a fairly quiet time except
when we get shelled, which is much more frequently
than usual since Bulgaria came in against us.
I am afraid that I am too late to send you the usual
Christmas wishes, but I expect that the new year will
still be young when you get this, so I trust that it will
find you all well and be full of all that is of the be-:
for you and yours. Above all I most sincerely truly
that it sees the finish of the War.
Please give my kindest regards to Mrs. Swan and all
at the Manse, and with every good wish to yourself.—
• I am, yours very sincerely,

Some Text