WAR LETTERS: Private Herbert Hopkinson wrote letters in the French trenches for his brothers in Kingaroy from 1914 to 1918.
WAR LETTERS: Private Herbert Hopkinson wrote letters in the French trenches for his brothers in Kingaroy from 1914 to 1918. Australian War Memorial

War letters home to Kingaroy farmers

KINGAROY peanut farmers wrote diligently to their brother as he fought on the battlefront in France during the first World War.

Over the four years of the war, Private Herbert Hopkinson of the Australian Pioneers 4th Division swapped stories of firing shells in the trenches with stories of maize crops and ploughing the fields in Memerambi.

"Well we are going to have peace, by the look of things, the people are going to settle the game and the sooner the better what I can make of it,” he said.

"They have been four years and neither side have made a great game, why the devil did they start the game it has caused heaps of misery and lives.”

Pte Hopkinson moved from a farm in Sydney to Kingaroy in 1910 with two of his three brothers Frank and Fred Hopkinson.

He left for war in 1914 when he was 34.

"I am pleased to hear that you had a good quality of maize on, to reap the benefit,” Pte Hopkinson said.

His brothers stayed behind in Memerambi, and farmed peanuts and maize until the 1950's.

Pte Hopkinson described the gunfire on the front line as 'kettle drums going in a big way.'

"One time an Australian would get scared at a man with a single rifle but after this experience, they will take it as a joke,” he said.

His great niece Sally Hopkinson said she was reminded of his struggle writing the letters in the trenches when she transcribed the letters.

"It's just him writing to the boys in Kingaroy,” she said.

"He died one week after writing the 28th June 1918 letter by a shell taking his legs, and was sadly missed.”

Pte Hopkinson was buried in France at Villers-Bretonneux in 1918.

Read Pte Herbert Hopkinson's final letter below:

France

June 28, 1918

Dear Frank,

I received letters from yourself, Mother and Maude so will make one in return, it's a task to write one letter in this hole. We have had the most unusual weather one could imagine for the time of year, real mild for a fortnight and you can bet it is appreciated amongst the boys and by the look of today it is going to continue.

At present we are on what we call a quiet front, only a few shells a day -the old saying 'the calm before the storm.' I hope it is wrong in this case. The Australians usually stir old Fritz up by sending heaps of shells, and of course he is not going to take them without getting some of his own back, and some poor devil has to suffer.

I had a bit of luck the other day, he put a big shell within a yard of another chap and I, as luck would have it, we were in a trench, he smashed the revetting in and pinned a chap with me to the other side. I thought he was settled the way he was groaning but after a while he pulled himself together and slipped out of the debris, and not much for worse for his experience they sent him away to hospital. I only had a crack on the hand not bad enough to get away with.

Well, we are going to have peace, by the look of things, the people are going to settle the game and the sooner the better what I can make of it, they have been four years, and neither side have made a great home, why the devil did they start the game it has caused heaps of misery and lives. The quicker they cut these nuts out, that cause war, the better for all.

I saw by the paper they turned conscription down, it's simply a waste of money, they should have a government that can rule things one way or the other, they have a back-bone. Over here it did not get a great support the way they brought them in...

Well I'm glad you are having it wet. Of course it will be hard on you not being able to plough, but you will finish up ok, with a bit of a push. You are not too shook up on the cow stunt, no doubt, it is not the best of life, but you know the dough is best. The growing season you would do better if you bought a few dozen pigs and young cattle and fatten them. You would do more good out of the game...

You can't imagine what the game is like until you see it, it's beyond anyone to know what a big shell coming at them. The marvel is the few they get you can see them at the time burst right in amongst a mob of men and the whole lot come out ok. The only thing everyone gets the wind up, it's only a case of one getting a run up and it starts the mob to look for a safer spot.

Some of the shells do more damage a good way away from where they explode, especially if they seem to go off on top of the ground. The last big stunt we were in was very hot joint, old Fritz went mad and used to seeing the in all directions.

We have had some hard marching for some days and the French roads are cows to march on, and they are rotten on the feet.

Best wishes for a prosperous season.

Hoping you are ok.

Love to Mother and Maude.

Your affectionate,

Brother Bert.

Content from the letters was published with permission by Sgt Hopkinson's great niece Sally Hopkinson.