1916 - Arthur's war at a glance

January 1916
Writing to brother Fred, Arthur gives his address as "Attached to 1/2 Highland Field Company RE” (a first line Territorial Force of Royal Engineers, formed at Aberdeen, Scotland, which embarked for France in April–May 1915). Whatever he was doing, he was being kept busy and hadn’t been back to base camp for some weeks.

February 1916
There are no letters from Arthur for February.

March 1916
The month in which Arthur turns 20, his thoughts are on finding a girl and getting married (a theme he returns to in later letters). 

Curiously, he refers to himself as “old bunny”. Perhaps we’re seeing Arthur’s humour at work, playing on the Doe surname – a female rabbit being a “doe” and his mother (Mrs Doe), like a rabbit, having gone on to produce a second family of six children (bunnies), who were Arthur’s younger half-siblings (in a June 1916 letter he refers to himself as "your son bunny”)

News of older brother Fred being injured reaches Arthur, and he hopes he is "not hurt much”.

April 1916
There are no letters from Arthur for April.

May 1916
Arthur sends a photo home of himself on a ruined road with a tip cart and his “old horse”. The photo, it seems, was from a newspaper, but it’s not known which newspaper it was.

June 1916
Two requests for Epsom Salts "as a good clear out wouldn't be amiss just now,” says Arthur. There’s also an admission that his handwriting is not the best (it isn’t) and that he has written in a hurry (he does). When he says "Keep smiling as it takes a lot to upset me,” we get the impression of an easy-going young man.

July 1916
It’s the start of the harvest at home, and Arthur wishes he was there to enjoy the first of the potatoes – “I could just about do with a good feed of them,” he says. A standard closing line to most of Arthur’s letters is "I haven't anymore news to tell you just now”, but this month he signs off one letter with "You no there isn't much to say they noes”, which is clearly a reference to the work of the Army censor

August 1916
"I haven't heard anymore about this VC that Fred got,” writes Arthur this month. Is this brotherly sarcasm or, in the confusion of war, did Arthur genuinely believe the Victoria Cross had been awarded to his older brother? Fred had, in fact, been awarded the Military Medal in July 1916 for conspicuous service in the Battle of Albert.

September 1916
Letters to Mother and Father and to a sister, presumably Dorothy (“Dot”), aged 18, ask for books to be sent as they passes a little time away”. For Arthur, reading takes his mind off things. He uses the words of the well-known soldiers’ song to illustrate his point: "put all your troubles in [your] old kit bag. Smile. Smile. Smile.” Books were sent to Arthur, as he thanks his sister for them in a letter written in mid-October 1916.

Arthur's first use of contemporary military slang occurs on 10th September when he writes "I got the parcel alright. It was tribon”. The spelling of the French tres bon may be wrong, but the meaning is clear – whatever the parcel contained (probably food) was much appreciated. Arthur uses the same word in a letter written in October 1916, with reference to foodstuffs. 

October 1916
Arthur mentions “Cherry" Cloughton, who was Pte Frank Cloughton of the Essex Regiment (see below). Pte Cloughton was from the village of Witham, close to the Horsnell family home in Hatfield Peverel. He is again mentioned by Arthur, on 31st March 1917, and Fred mentions his death in a letter of 4th August 1917.

Two letters this month refer to the downing of two Zeppelins “in our old county”, which Arthur has read about in a newspaper sent over to him. The Zeppelins he refers to were the L32 and L33, brought down on the night of 23/24 September 1916 over Essex, as they attempted a bombing raid on London. 

With winter approaching, Arthur asks for "a pair of hedging gloves” which he will wear over his woollen driving gloves to keep his hands warm.

November 1916
Writing to his sister in late November, Arthur says he hopes to be home for Christmas, "if I have luck”.

December 1916
There are no letters from Arthur for December.

F Cloughton in uniform

Pte Frank Cloughton (c.1893–1917), friend of Fred and Arthur Horsnell.

Pte Frank Cloughton

40049 Pte Frank Cloughton, 11th Battalion Essex Regiment, born c.1893 at Fairstead, Essex. 

Son of Catherine Russell (formerly Cloughton), of 3 Ashes Cottage, Terling, Witham, Essex. 

Lived in Hatfield Peverel, Essex.

Died of wounds 13th July 1917, aged 24. 

Buried at Maroc British Cemetery, in the village of Grenay, Pas-de-Calais, France. 

He is commemorated on the First World War memorial plaque, St Andrew’s Church, Hatfield Peverel.


Pte Frank Cloughton, temporary wooden grave marker, Maroc British Cemetery.


Letters concerning the death of Pte Frank Cloughton sent to his mother (Hatfield Peverel Parish Magazine, August 1917).


With thanks to Karen Shepherd, great-niece of Frank Cloughton, for information and images.

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