[Footnote 1: We resided over thirteen years at Highbury, London, N., during my pastorate of the Highbury Quadrant Congregational Church.]
This is the last letter I shall be able to send to you before the other boys follow me. Keep brave, dear ones, for all our sakes; don’t let any of us turn cowards whatever ultimately happens. We’ve a tradition to live up to now that we have become a family of soldiers and sailors.
I shall long for the time when you come over to England. Where will our meeting be and when? Perhaps the war may be ended and then won’t you be glad that we dared all this sorrow of good-byes?
God bless and keep you,
On board, July 27th, 1916.
My very dear people:
Here we are scooting along across the same old Atlantic we’ve crossed so many times on journeys of pleasure. I’m at a loss to make my letters interesting, as we are allowed to say little concerning the voyage and everything is censored.
There are men on board who are going back to the trenches for the second time. One of them is a captain in the Princess Pat’s, who is badly scarred in his neck and cheek and thighs, and has been in Canada recuperating. There is also a young flying chap who has also seen service. They are all such boys and so plucky in the face of certain knowledge.
This morning I woke up thinking of our motor-tour of two years ago in England, and especially of our first evening at The Three Cups in Dorset. I feel like running down there to see it all again if I get any leave on landing. How strange it will be to go back to Highbury again like this! The little boy who ran back and forth to school down Paradise Row little thought of the person who to-day masquerades as his elder self.
Heigho! I wish I could tell you a lot of things that I’m not allowed to. This letter would be much more interesting then.
In seventeen days the boys will also have left you—so this will arrive when you’re horribly lonely. I’m so sorry for you dear people—but I’d be sorrier for you if we were all with you. If I were a father or mother, I’d rather have my sons dead than see them failing when the supreme sacrifice was called for. I marvel all the time at the prosaic and even coarse types of men who have risen to the greatness of the occasion. And there’s not a man aboard who would have chosen the job ahead of him. One man here used to pay other people to kill his pigs because he couldn’t endure the cruelty of doing it himself. And now he’s going to kill men. And he’s a sample. I wonder if there is a Lord God of Battles—or is he only an invention of man and an excuse for man’s own actions.
We are just in—safely arrived in spite of everything. I hope you had no scare reports of our having been sunk—such reports often get about when a big troop ship is on the way.