A WWI soldier’s letter from France

Today (3 July 2016) marks 100 years since the death in France of Otha Everleigh Bassett, Keith’s great-uncle. Otha was a country lad, a share farmer from Condobolin in the very centre of New South Wales; he was 5 feet 11 inches tall with a dark complexion, grey eyes and black hair.

When he enlisted in Condobolin on 11 May 1915 he was 24 years and 7 months, and gave his father Alfred Bassett as his next of kin. He was shipped out of Sydney on the Orsova on 14 July 1915, and ‘taken on strength’ on 5 September 1915, joining a composite company attached to the 9th Battalion in Gallipoli as a temporary Corporal before joining the 3rd Battalion. After the evacuation from Gallipoli and training in Egypt he was sent to France in late March 1916.

On 16 June 1916 he wrote a letter home from France to his brother Percy in Condobolin, just over two weeks before his death. The letter was published in The Lachlander on Wednesday, August 23, 1916.

Otha's letter to PercyDear Brother,— I have just received your letter of 17th. May and I was pleased to hear from you, and to know that things are all right. The last I got from you was about two months ago. No, I have not been knocked yet though I may be before morning, for all I know. I can hear the guns roaring, and one might hit just here any minute, but I hope it doesn’t bother though. They throw a lot of iron rations about at times, issue them out pretty freely. It is mid-summer here now, and, about as hot as it is in winter in N.S.W. The days are very long, there are only five hours darkness. It is nearly always raining here and seems to be good seasons.
There is grass, wheat, and oats near the firing line (where there is no stock) three and four feet high around old broken up farm houses, which are all brick with tiled and thatched roofs. I am known in the company as tiny, the hun, the wirer. I have been putting out barbed-wire entanglements between the two firing lines at night which is not a very safe game, a couple of my mates were wounded pretty badly one night, I could tell you dozens of exciting personal experiences I have had, but they seem a bit too shaky, so I will leave them untold, in the hope that I get back to tell them.
I was nearly trapped by the huns once, that is why they call me the hun, they say I go out and have a yarn with them at night. This is a fine place, a great pity to see a war here breaking it up. I have seen places blown to pieces in less than two seconds. Buildings as big as Tasker’s Royal Hotel, Condo, about five or six high explosive shells drop on it at the same instant, and everything is down on the ground in a heap of debris. There is very fierce fighting going on in places at present. One that has not been here could not imagine what it is like, and it is more than I dare write about for it is not in the agreement. I suppose things are much in the same boat with the Germans by the number of shells that our artillery send over to them free of charge, they never say if they get them or not, but I expect they get some of them safely enough. I saw a few letters in the “Lachlander” by Percy Shephard.
Remember me to the folks at home.
Your loving brother,
OOTHA BASSETTT,
France, 17-6-16.

Otha was killed in action on 3 July 1916, and is buried in the Rue-David Military Cemetery in Fleurbaix, a village about 5 kilometres south-west of Armentieres.

Otha Bassett headstone

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