I have at last managed to secure writing materials to send you this letter. I have now been in the trenches six weeks with an interval of a week for rest. The weather at night is bitterly cold and for the last three days it has done nothing but rain. You would hardly know me now for I am covered from head to foot with wet clay. In fact I don’t know what it feels like to be dry. I’ve not had a wash or a shave for three weeks and we are living like rabbits burrowed in the ground.Dose of shrapnelIt is a bit of a change when the Germans start giving us a dose of shrapnel and we had it the other night for nearly three hours. If we put our heads out of the trenches during the day, there is a strong probability of getting our brains blown out.
It is disgraceful how the Germans loot the homes of the unfortunate refugees. The country around here is in a shocking state for our foes delight in ruining both towns and villages. Their Jack Johnsons and Black Marias are terrible for when a shell bursts it makes a hole in the ground large enough to bury a horse and cart.
If there is a hell, I’ve been in it and I don’t know how I have managed to come out alive.But though we have lost heavily, the Germans have lost ten times more and have all about had enough. I have no idea how long the war will last but it will be a blessing when it is over.
Thanks to his wife and especially to his sister, Mrs Bordase of 2 The Bank, Eccleshill, who passed on several of his letters to the Shipley Times & Express, we know quite a lot about David Leach’s war and what it was like to be a soldier in the trenches.
CHRISTMAS AT THE FRONTA week later the newspaper published an extract from a letter to his sister describing Christmas in the trenches. While there was a truce where he was, there was certainly no mingling or playing football.He wrote: I hope you enjoyed yourself this Christmas, for mine exceeded expectations. At our part of the line not a shot was fired all Christmas. The Germans even illuminated their trenches at night and their band played till the early hours of Christmas morning.They gave us a taste of their singing, for Christmas carols were sung all the night through. They gave us plenty of invitations to go and spend a pleasant evening with them in their trenches, promising us a safe return which, of course, we did not accept. Some of them came out of their trenches and marched half way across to ours to beg of us to go and have an enjoyable Christmas. I don’t know what it has looked like at home but here it is the most ideal Christmas I have seen for years. Everything is white with frost and the trees and fields look charming.
If there is a hell I’ve been in it
Remember the LusitaniaYou would hardly credit what we have to fight against for beasts and human fiends are names far too good for them.Their race ought to be exterminated from the earth.If you could only see the awful agony of our brave men when they have been gassed it would make your blood run cold.Our watchword now is ‘Remember the Lusitania.’ Every man a heroIf you want a real good war picture get the charge of the Rifle Brigade at Neuve Chapelle. Ours was the first regiment to enter the village. It was a splendid victory for us but it cost us dear. After a battle like that is over you look back over the ground that has been won and see the dead and dying and every man of them a hero.Then your mind travels to the homes they have left in dear old England, where mother, wife or sweetheart is patiently waiting for news of their dear ones.. What we can honestly say about those who have gone as well as those who remain is that we have endeavoured to uphold the best traditions of the British race.
On 18 June 1915 the newspaper published two more letters David, now a corporal, had sent to his sister. This one included a strong condemnation of workers at home who were on strike The other (right) reflects on the battle of Neuve Chapelle.In reply to you inquiry as to whether I have been promoted, my address at the head of the letter indicates it and it was granted for good conduct in the field. If I have the good luck to go through the war I hope to rise to a higher post still.You may have noticed in the papers that the war is degenerating into a barbarous contest and I can assure you that we have to be very alert or we can easily be caught by the terrible gas that the Germans use.We are now supplied with goggles and mouth pads and have to keep them handy, ready for instant use. I don’t think people at home realise the awful result of breathing in this fearful
stuff. In their attempts upon our position it has so far failed. Of course presence of mind goes a long way on these occasions but one can never be too careful.As you mention smoking I might say that at one time we were well supplied with cigarettes but there has been a shortage for some time past. There is great discontent among the troops of our division regarding the extraordinary behaviour of workmen in the old country. Here we are in the trenches, fighting against great odds, fighting a most barbarous and cunning enemy, and doing our very best to bring this terrible war to a successful conclusion and yet the very people we are depending on at home are shirking their work and causing strikes.Such people are the direct cause of many a brave man’s death. If these same strikers and shirkers were to be placed in the trenches and got a dose of the Jack Johnson’s and a taste of the gas, I think it would bring them to their senses
The war is degenerating into a barbarous contest
On 22 October 1915, the Shipley Times & Express reported that David’s wife had received a letter from Sgt E M Gallagher of the 3rd Rifle Brigade:“It is with the deepest regret that I have to inform you of the death of your husband. He was killed by a shell that burst just over the trench, which hit him in several places. The missile killed two others and wounded four.“On behalf of the whole company I offer you our deepest sympathy. Your husband was our esteemed comrade and will be greatly missed in our platoon. He was always willing to do whatever was required and however hard the job or whatever risk he ran, I never heard him grumble.Bear up as well as possible“I could always rely on him to carry out his work in a satisfactory manner. I shall miss him very much for all the time I have known him I have found him to be a thoroughly good and hard-working soldier. I hope for the sake of the little ones you will bear up as well as possible.”The newspaper then filled in some of the other details of his life: Cpl Leach joined the Militia at a very early age and soon after enlisting developed into a splendid shot, an honour which he retained to the end. On joining the Rifle Brigade he was sent to Malta and while there had the exciting adventure of having to swim a mile in his clothes to escape the wrath of some infuriated natives.From Malta he was transferred to Belfast and during the riots did duty with the military police and one of the ruffians with whom he had to deal was sent for a long term of imprisonment.TitanicWhile at Belfast his time expired and being placed on the reserve, he found employment in the dockyard and was in at the launching of the Titanic. On coming to Bradford later, he assisted in the erection of the Alhambra.At the outbreak of war he rejoined his old regiment and went over to France in September 1914 and met his death after the advance at Loos at the age of 31. He resided at 34 Shakespeare Street, Otley Road, and he leaves a widow and three children.Deceased was brother to Mrs Bordase of 2 The Bank, Eccleshill. In addition to being a crack shot, Cpl Leach was both a good swimmer and a fine boxer.
I thought it was my last spell on earthA letter to his sister, published on 1 October 1915 read:‘During the last week of trench duty we passed through more exciting times than at any period during the twelve months we have been out at the front. I am quite willing to admit that I thought it was my last spell on earth.’‘I had not been asleep long one night before there was a terrific explosion and the ringing in my ears was awful.‘When I opened my eyes I found myself pinned to the earth by the broken beams of my dug-out and it was only with the greatest difficulty that I was able to get out.‘A shell had pitched right on the top of the corrugated iron roof of the dug-out and the strength of the roof had saved me from a terrible death.’The second event, he said, was even worse.‘About five one morning the Germans bombarded our trenches for nearly four hours and the last hour their gunners seemed to be racing each other which could send them the quickest.‘It was estimated that they came at the rate of 250 to the minute and they gradually blew the trench to pieces.‘I was one of the few in the forward trench which caught the majority of the shells. What a sensation we passed through.Lost their nerve‘Shells of all descriptions were dropping all round the trench and we were almost blinded with dirt and nearly choked with the small of powder.‘Three of my men lost their nerve and they were sent to the trench behind for cover. The four of us stuck where we were, kneeling in the trench bottom waiting for death. It is still a miracle to me how we escaped. None of us could speak when the bombardment ceased. ‘If I am spared to come home I shall be able to tell you other things that will make you open your eyes a bit wider. After all, am glad to say I am still keeping well.’