To mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, we asked readers to send letters and images that had meant so much to families waiting at home.

A doctor in the Lancashire Fusiliers

Lt Arnold Bosanquet Thompson, a doctor from the Royal Army Medical Corps attached to the Lancashire Fusiliers, sailed for Gallipoli from Alexandria during the middle of the campaign.

Arnold Bosanquet Thompson, a doctor from the Royal Army Medical Corps attached to the Lancashire Fusiliers.

Arnold Bosanquet Thompson, a doctor from the Royal Army Medical Corps attached to the Lancashire Fusiliers.

 

The miraculous survival

1917 The helmet of Signaller John Clarkson of the 10th Canadian 2nd Brigade, 1st Division France. In the battle of Vimy Ridge (1917), Clarkson was ordered to signal for reinforcements. As he sent the signal, a machine-gun bullet went through the right side of his helmet and out of the rear, taking a 1½in by 4in section of skull with it. The signal made it through and reinforcements came. Clarkson miraculously survived.

The helmet of Signaller John Clarkson of the 10th Canadian 2nd Brigade

The helmet of Signaller John Clarkson of the 10th Canadian 2nd Brigade

 

In the Levant, 1917

An account of the advance to Jerusalem by Capt Richard Spencer, Machine Gun Corps

‘Our forced march proceeded well, until we got just beyond Bethlehem, then the weather turned bitterly cold. As we climbed the hills, a dense, freezing drizzle and mist set in. Our pack camels slipped and staggered all over the shop.

The drivers, either Egyptians or Sudanese, were clad only in their long shirts and they suffered greatly in those conditions. We ourselves were little better off being in shirts, shorts and Bombay Bowlers. Our progress was slow and by the time we got to the Mount of Olives, the enemy’s main force had departed, after their line had been in the west.

We looked across to Jerusalem below us, which was reached by our infantry on the 9th December 1917. Allenby took possession on the 11th December.

We heard that our leading troops approaching Jerusalem on the 9th December were amazed to be met by the Mayor and his attendants bearing keys to the Holy City. No one on the spot felt of sufficient authority to accept such a momentous gesture. The poor Mayor was kept waiting for several hours before a British General could be found to act the part.’

160 Machine Gun Corps Officers in camp

160 Machine Gun Corps Officers in camp

Christmas 1917

A letter from Juliet Mansel to her mother, Mildred Ella Mansel, describing her Christmas in 1917 with German prisoners. Juliet was a nurse with the Société Secours aux Blessés Militaires of the French army

‘The most wonderful thing happened to me on Xmas Day, something I shall always remember. I had been worrying a good deal about the Boches. I hadn’t been to see them since I got back naturally, as Madame Oulmière has taken over the service, and I knew they were going to have nothing for their “Weihnacht” not even a smoke. The question was how to give them anything? I simply couldn’t sleep, the night before, wondering how I was going to do it.

At last I hit on a plan and got together a little provision, one packet of Woodbines and a bar of chocolate for each man, which I knew would mean a tremendous lot to them. When everyone was at a kind of concert, that had been arranged for 1 o’clock, I flew down to the Boche barracks, right the other side of the hospital. It was snowing hard and I arrived breathless and trembling!

When I opened the door of the barrack where all my fractured Boches were, I was greeted by a kind of shout of joy! And “Ach, ach! Es ist Schwester zurück gekommen!” I never expected to get such a reception, and you should have seen their faces when I gave them each their miserable pittance of cigarettes! It was really pitiful.

Même jeu in the second barrack, I have never had such a greeting. But it was in the first barrack that the little Polish boy, Paull, that I told you about, said to me “Schwester, einmal lange hin, ein Christenkind ist in der Welt gekommen jetzt haben wir auch ein Christen kind wie unsere Gast gehabt” [Sister, once, long ago, a Christ Child came into the world now we have had a Christ Child as our guest]. Wasn’t it wonderful?

When I turned out again into the snow I felt as if I’d received a kind of benediction. How extraordinary it all is! Christmas! What irony! And how insane is war!

Goodnight, my own darling. Je t’embrasse de tout mon Coeur.
Your Ju’

Rotten Row transported to France

Rotten Row, Souchey, France

Maj Verner, Capt Nevill and CSM Herst in Rotten Row near Souchey in France.

A war artist at rest

Henry Lamb in his  tent

Official War Artist Henry Lamb reads a letter in his tent

** This article was first published in full in Country Life magazine on July 30 2014

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Maj Verner, Capt Nevill and CSM Herst in Rotten Row near Souchey in France. Facing page: Official War Artist Henry Lamb reads a letter in his tent