Excerpts from original letters sent to his mother:
Arthur Lewis, born 14th May 1895 and died 20th August 1916 at the battle of the Somme. He was a stretcher bearer in the RAMC and was training to be a language teacher at Borough Road College, Isleworth, after gaining a county scholarship (second in the county).
He wrote to his mother in July 1915 mentioning that he had put forward his name to join the Army. He had gained a provisional certificate from College and reimbursed half of the money – £12.10. He had thought long and hard about joining up and, as he said, ‘We are not doing at all well.’ He knew his mother was not happy about this as she wanted him to finish his education.
His next letter as Private Lloyd 61048, R.A.M.C Aldershot, to his mother said ‘we now have our kit and today had a breakfast of steak and onions. We are billeted at the local Y.M.C.A, sleeping in tents on boards with 3 blankets – no mattress, no pillow. I think we are going to France soon. That is where all the fighting is.’
August 8th France…’I am quite well, living under canvass. One of my Seniors has been killed, and if I pull through, I shall get leave in winter. Your affectionate son, Lewis.’
December 1st 1915 ‘Yesterday we came up the line. We are living in a barn with straw – it is cold but gives shelter. We are about 200yds away from the nearest shells. I am practically free from vermin – I borrowed some “Keatings” ( Lice Killer?)
I get my clothes washed by French people. They have been driven out of their homes, further up the line.
There are rumors of a party on Christmas day. It will cost us 21/4 Francs. Can you send me a parcel early? We got some of our pay – 50 Francs. This month I shall not spend all of this, but if I send it home, you will be able to change it at the post office?’
December 4th ‘I am on night police tonight and am in good health. The weather is changeable – some days rain, others frost. They have issued us with more vests and new boots as the mud and rain soon rot them. The mackintosh is also very useful – they are good ones and cost 30 shillings so must be good.’
December13th ‘I wish you a very happy Christmas and a happy New Year. I received your parcel yesterday. We are near the line now and can see Loos. The Germans shell nearly every day. This is the dressing station where patients are sent down to the Hospital. We live in the cellar of an old ruined Brewery, so we have shelter. We lie on stretchers for beds and very comfortable they are. The weather here is wet and the trenches are very muddy making the great coats very heavy.’
December18th ‘I have received your parcel. The weather is better than what you are having . There are three other fellows from Cosham in this ambulance team. These cellars are the best we have had. The officers are friendly and it makes working here better.’
December 27th ‘We had a very good time on Christmas Day – started off with ham and eggs, then turkey, ham and all the trimmings. And Christmas pudding plus fruit, cigarettes, beer and sweets. Boxing Day, much the same. But was no different to any other regarding the injured and sick.’
December 30th ‘I received your letter. I have plenty of money – we are well fed so no need to spend any. Reading matter is about the only thing I need. Have found another man from Wolverton. He was married in the Wesleyan Church. His brother lives in Green Lane – his name is Morgan and works in Wolverton Works.’
To be continued……..
January 17th ‘Sorry I have not written but I was thrown off the lorry and skinned my hands. But am fine now. We are now at rest in Ouchel. A fairly large place. Could you please include some candles in your next parcel as I am getting low?’
January 22nd ‘I received Dad’s letter yesterday. We are at rest now, though doing drill as usual. This place is very muddy and rambling. There are mines in this part of the country. There are many estaminets (pubs) about the same size as Stony but about 50 more. Being in the fresh air, I am feeling well. I received the papers but could you send some cake!? I am sending some more money, either in this letter, or by registered envelope.’
Wednesday It snowed yesterday so is now cold and slushy. I now have enough socks and cakes, but could do with books and candles. There is a band here – it is very good and reminds me of Sunday afternoons at home.’
Monday May 15th ‘Dear Aunt, I received your letter yesterday. I am back at the ambulance but free from the immediate thoughts of bullets and shells. I am quite well although the weather is colder. I hope you are all keeping well and that the War will soon be over.’
‘Dear Mother, I received your letter and one from Percy. I hope the war is over before he is eighteen.’
Monday May 22nd ‘I received your letter yesterday. I am up the line and we have been bombarded heavily yesterday and today. Yesterday we had tear gas over. It makes one’s eyes smart. I’ll answer Percy’s letter as soon as possible.’
Monday May 29th ‘I am stretcher bearing with the ambulance now. We have not had a rest lately. The places we have been in have been nice pleasant places in the summer.’
Thursday ‘I received the paper yesterday. I have found out where Mr Dean is and hope to see him when I get back to base. I am quite well. We found a stray dog ratting so we joined in – we wanted to keep it but the sergeant said no!’
Sunday July 16th ‘I received your letter yesterday. I am well I hope you are all well.’
Monday ‘Thank you for the parcel . I am with the Trench Maintenance, now the weather is wet. I met one of the men from Cosham who was accepted by the army but who had had two abdominal operations and was found to be unfit and discharged.’
Friday ‘I have just done eight days up the line. Bullets came near once or twice. I slept in the dug out. I am hoping to see a Wolverton man one of these days. It is snowing again.’
‘There are preparations being made for heavy fighting. I see that German aircraft have again visited England.’
The battle of the Somme. 61048 Pte A.L Lewis died in action, aged 21 yrs, in his first year of action.
Dear Mr Lloyd. It is with deepest regret I have to inform you of the death in action of your son. He had been sent to escort another ambulance. A shell came into the dug out where he was and injured him so severely that he died within minutes of being rendered unconscious.
He was buried in the Quarry cemetery about 500yds due south of Bazentin-Le-Grand. It is not possible to do much with the grave as we are under heavy fire. But, rest assured, that it will be marked with his name and will be made up by the Graves registration Commission.
He was one of the best Bearers and had volunteered repeatedly for especially dangerous duties.
Please accept, from myself and every officer and man of 141 Field Ambulance, our deepest sympathy for you and your family in you great loss.
When I found these letters written to his mother, what started as an interesting story, developed into a strong interest in WWI, finding the horrific numbers of our brave soldiers some of them only serving for 1 year in active service. Let us never forget…..