Raymond Norrington's Letters Home

Raymond Norrington with his Father Edward
Raymond Norrington with his Father Edward
Image courtesy of Jeannette Norrington © 2009

While researching Raymond Norrington for an entry on our War Memorials page we made contact with his family who still had some of his letters home. Jeannette Norrington has very kindly given us permission to use the following transcripts.

Monday June 5th, 1916.

My dear Mother,

I expect you are wondering when I am going to write again. Well, I've done so at last. I have not had much time just recently as we have had another move. This one we did in the dark and my word, it was some job marching behind our old cooker. We have to perform upon the brakes at the back & we couldn't tell exactly when we were going up hill and when we were going down, so usually the brakes were on when they ought to be off, thereby causing our cooker to bang into the cooker in front, or to get bashed into by the one behind. You can guess it was some job.
     I hear that we shall soon be coming home, at any rate according to the latest rumour I should think it quite probable.
     I suppose you, haven't heard the blooming rumour about the German Navy being done in. I hope its true, what do you say?
     Tonight our fellows have gone out on fatigues,(trench digging) & I have got to get up & make tea for them when they come in. I think I have struck very, very lucky in getting this job. For now I miss all this rotten night fatigues & only have got to get up every other night to make tea, which is to be ready at 3.30 a.m. Of course we get plenty to do during the day, but still, when the company has to go out on fatigues it is comparatively a little thing to do to miss a few hours sleep.
     The other night when we arrived at this village, sometime near midnight, I had to stop up & boil the ham for the next morning's breakfast, & during that time, I had rats rushing about the whole while. Still I don't mind one or two of 'em but when it comes to dozens, I'm not playing. The devils, they were not half enjoying themselves, bathing in the old farm pond, fighting and rushing about generally, This blooming place is absolutely infested with rats without any swanking. Of course it wasn't quite as bad as I said above, but near enough not to be pleasant.
     Well Mum I must close now, with best love to you all.
               Your affectionate son, Raymond.

June 15th, 1916.

My dear Mother,

     Just a few lines to let you know that I'm still in the pink, and having quite a decent time except for the rotten weather. I don't think that since we have been here we have had one fine day. You know it makes it jolly rotten for our boys this bad weather. They've been absolutely wet through for days. My word, when I see them going about plastered up to their eyes in mud I cant help thinking how lucky I was to get this job. But naturally on the other hand I cant help feeling that I ought to be with them.
     How are you all getting on at Home? I hope you have all been keeping quite well. Please tell Fred & Nell that I will write to them both when we are a little less busy. At the present time I have a jolly hard job to get time to write.
     Wont it be ripping when this blooming war is over. I can tell you we're all getting darned fed up with it but I must say I really think that we shall soon see the end, at least I hope so.
     Well, I have not much news so I will close now and will write you again soon.
     Good-bye Mum with best love to you all.
          Your Affectionate son

P.S. I received your parcel Tuesday. The contents were grand but while I'm on this job don't send Ham, for you see I'm differently situated now.

Sunday September 17 1916

My dearest Mother,

     Here we are again, you see I am keeping my promise & writing as often as possible. I have just discovered that to-day I've reached my twentieth birthday. I shouldn't have known only I wanted to know the date when I started writing this evening.      I am having a jolly good time down here but am terribly short of money. This morning I tried to use my army razor but had to give up, the blooming thing was absolutely hopeless. So would you mind sending me out a light ordinary razor & shaving brush. I'm sorry to be such a trouble but you see all my stuff is in my pack which I left with the Regiment. I expect I shall get them when I get back, or perhaps all my personal property will be forwarded home to you, but I expect it will be some time before the things get sorted out,      I am getting quite fit again now & my arm is much better but still aches a good bit. I don't know what a big wound can be like,, a small one is bad enough for me. It doesn't hurt at the time you get hit, its the after effects. How are you all getting on at home? And what does Dad think about the war in general? I quite think that we are getting the best of it every where now & am just longing for Peace to be declared. Wont it be ripping when it is all over? The German prisoners say that they are absolutely done & will be glad to see the end as well.
     Well lets hope for the best.     Good-bye Mother with best love to you all at Home,
          Your Affectionate son

Dear Old Nell, (sister)          Saturday May 12 1917;

     I suppose it is about time I gave you a turn for a letter so here goes for an attempt.
     How have you been getting on lately? It seems ages since I last heard from you, I expect it is because I have been moving about a lot just lately. Soon after I got back with the Regiment, we did a short trip to a village a few miles away.
     The country round this part is absolutely grand, so you can guess we have some jolly decent walks in the evenings. ' Really speaking we're not very far from the firing line, and except for tons of soldiers knocking about here you could hardly believe that a war was on, things seem to be going on quite as usual.
     To-day it is our bath day but unfortunately we've got to march about five miles to the blooming bath house, so I reckon by the time we get back we shall be just as dirty as when we started.
     I don't know whether I told you that we have all been issued out with tin helmets & I can tell you they're just about the hottest and heaviest head covers I've ever worn. Khaki covers have also been issued for the helmets and when we get all this stuff on you may guess we look some chumps.
     Would you mind sending me out some more pairs of socks. Dexter wishes me to thank you for the pair you sent him, they came in very handy.      I received Mother's parcel yesterday. The eggs were jolly nice, only the blooming rats ate half of them. Thank old Fred for the cigs.
     Well Nell I must close now, with Love to all at home.
          Your Affectionate Brother,     Raymond

Monday May 28, 1917.

My dearest Mother,

     Just a few lines to let you know that I received your ripping letter of May 23 yesterday.
     I am glad to hear old Charlie has managed to get another short leave. I expect he will enjoy working on his old trade again and I hope that he will be able to get a little back of all he has lost. How is his business going on now? I suppose it is only just going at all! Let's hope that the war will soon end and he will be able to get the business going in working order again.
     Fancy old Frank Churchill deciding to take a commission after all this time. I can quite understand what has made him do it for continual training is terribly monotonous. I had a letter from him this evening, but as usual it was terribly short and he just told me the bare facts.
     As far as Commissions go in 'fighting' line, I think Arthur Chittenden has got the pick of the bunch. I dint mind telling you that really speaking a commission in either the Infantry or the Artillery, is not worth a snap of the fingers. You ask me whether it would be worth my while taking a commission. Well this is how it stands as regards the job I am on now. There are a good many points in favour of it. Firstly it is permanent, that is as long as I behave myself. Secondly, we take part in absolutely none of the fighting & work in comparative safety. Although of course we often work quite close to the line, but should Fritz become too hot for us, we can do a bunk to a safer spot, or if necessary go right back, & this is a great point, for I think there is not another section of the army allowed this privilege.
     Now supposing I should take a commission in either the Artillery or Infantry, the fighting being so absolutely hard I should reckon myself very lucky if I came through many scraps without catching something. And as regards fighting, I don't mind telling you I have had enough, & don't wish to put myself in the way of any more.
     On the other hand, if I did put in for a com. I should naturally be sent home for training. Well that would be absolutely great for I could do with a few months in England again. Also perhaps during my months of training the war would end, & of course that would be very nice. But I don't think there is much hope of that. So I think I will remain just common Rfn. R. Norrington of the Queens Westminster Rifles.
     If I could get a com. in the A.S.C. of the B.E.F. Canteens, I should feel inclined to take it on.
I will just try & tell you what our present surroundings are like, & the work that we have to do.
     By the way, when I last wrote you I think I told you we were once more out on rest. Well, we had three days of it and then there came an order for us to return up the line the next day. We were not expecting to go that way, as the rest of the Division, it was rumoured, was going further back. And they did, for as we paraded to go further up the rest of our Division paraded to go further back, so you can guess the Salvage Company was not in a very good humour that morning, as it was a frightful disappointment to us. But that was several days ago now & we are once more settled, & I am glad to say pretty comfortable.
     We are now billeted in one of France's biggest towns which has suffered rather badly with Shell Shock. The house in which our company is billeted in stands in what I should imagine has been a rather classy square. On one side of the square there has been a rather swagger church, of course to a certain extent it still stands. On the opposite side there is a fairly big nunnery, which has hardly been touched, & just a few of the nuns still live there. These two buildings are the main features of the place, the rest if the space around the square, is taken up by a number of jolly pretty houses & gardens some of which have been hit, & others in fairly decent repair, of which ours is one of the latter. In the centre of the square, there is a large number of chestnut trees, which are now looking absolutely ripping, as they are in full bloom, & the nice green grass all around the trees sets them off a treat. Really speaking the place looks quite pretty. That's the best I can do -as far as my surroundings. Of course all the damage the town has suffered was done when the Allies line was only a few yards outside. Now of course it is a matter of miles. And we are only worried, if ever, by a little shelling or by sometimes an air raid. But those I am glad to say are seldom anything to write home -about.
     Our work consists of absolutely scouring the captured ground of anything in the way of ammunition, equipment & anything belonging to either our or the German Army. This of course is a long job for in an advance there is always tons and tons of stuff left behind both by us & the Germans. We collect all the salvage from the fields & villages & make dumps of it on the roads & in due course wagons come along & pick it all up & take it to the headquarters where it is all sorted into serviceable or unserviceable. The former is just sent to the various places where it is cleaned up and then sent back to the factories to be remade up. I might tell you that in this way our Salvage Company alone often saves thousands of pounds for our army in less than a month. Well, I shall have to close now as I am getting a bit tired. So good-bye for the present.
     Best Love to you Dad, Nell & Charlie.
     Your Affectionate Son

PS I am also enclosing a letter for Phyllis which I hope you will send round to her.

The Norrington Brothers (l to r) Alfred George, Raymond and Charles James
The Norrington Brothers (l to r) Alfred George, Raymond and Charles James
Image courtesy of Jeannette Norrington © 2009

The sequel is a story which was repeated several million times and is here reported by the local newspaper.
"There is great anxiety as to what has befallen Pte. Raymond Norrington (Queen's Westminsters), son of Mr. E. Norrington, butcher, High Street, in consequence of the information contained in a letter sent to his parents by the Quartermaster-Sergeant of his Company, who, writing, says :- "I am taking the first opportunity to write you concerning your son, who is reported missing during the last action on the 16th. (August 1917) The situation was very much confused owing to the very heavy shell fire. It appears from conversations with some of your son's comrades that he was badly wounded by a shell and was then assisted away, or that he was unfortunately killed when the Company next advanced. There is no one now in the Company who has seen him during the advance. They are all casualties. I have made very careful inquiries, but cannot get any further information than that he was alive when his platoon advanced. There is, of course, a hope - a faint one - that he was carried off the field by some other regiment. Of course, information of that nature takes some time to get through especially when there is heavy fighting. I am more than sorry at the sad news. I knew your son very well and also knew what a good type of boy and soldier he was, one of the best in the Company, and all the Company, including the N.C.O's were his friends. Such personal effects as he left behind in his pack I have sent to you through the official channels. In conclusion, I wish to offer you and his relatives my own sympathy and that of the Company as well. We have lost a good comrade, and you have lost a worthy and brave son. Should any further news come to hand, be assured I will acquaint you".
The Quartermaster-Sergeant knew very well that he would have no cause to write again but he deserved a medal for that very personal and sensitive letter which he must have had to repeat, with minor variations, many times for, as he said, "They are all casualties". We don't know if Raymond's parents kept the razor and shaving brush which presumably did make the return journey but they certainly kept a few of the other letters which he sent home and these may appear in a future Newsletter. If you have anything like the above in the roof or at the back of a drawer, please search it out and send to us. Anything you entrust to us will be copied and returned promptly.