LETTERS FROM THE FRONT Lt. Col Beattie Writes.
France, October 27, 1916.
My Dear People:
In the hope that a letter may reach you in time for the anniversary services in November. I write.
Much has happened since I last wrote to you. Could one write in the midst of events on the Somme, what endless pages of description one might send. Events may not be recorded at the time of happening, but when they are left for subsequent record they lose much of their intensity they might otherwise bear. The whole battle is of such magnitude as to baffle description. Miles behind the lines there is ceaseless activity. Great long columns of motor lorries thunder along the roads, bearing an in- credible supply of shells, fodder for horses, food for soldiers, coal, coke, lumber, corrugated iron, great iron beams for supporting dugout roofs and coverings for big guns, railway material for trench railway and trains for big guns, telephone poles for new lines and a thousand and one necessaries for a great campaign. Ambulances flit here and there with their precious freight. Horse imports reload at the dumps, where carrying parties get them to take to the trenches. Water carts without which the tainted water from wells would be useless for troops perish with thirst, and have nothing with which to cook. Nearer the line we come upon great areas black with troops, bivouacking. Rain, mud and cold, it is all the same. They sleep, cook, wash in the open. Nearer still to the line, and on the area captured from the enemy, shelter is provided in old dugouts, or niches cut in the embankments, or the side of a huge crater. One mine crater 100 feet deep and 500 feet wide made a good place for little shelters. Here the offensive smell of dead Huns, partly buried, is the chief obstacle to reasonable com- fort. Further up one comes in the serried, ranks of guns of all calibers, belching forth night and day with death dealing blows for which the Hun has been working for forty years. Sometimes all guns open at once and the noise is like nothing else in the world. When our men captured the sugar refinery, and sent back word that they would like to take Corcelette, they got the word 'go to it.' I watched the troops maneuvering into position for attack. Splendid fellows! How they moved across the battlefield of the morning, skirting at every step the shell holes of varying size, or diving into one to avoid flying shrapnel, will stay in my memory as long as life lasts. The scene of desolation in Corcelette after the capture was mute testimony of the awful nature of the bombardment. Imagine a place half the size of Cobourg so utterly demolished so as to make it improbable that one could find where the lot on which his house had stood. One building alone remained as a landmark. It had been a chateau of considerable size. The cellar with a brick arched roof, covered over by many tons of debris from falling Walls had withstood the bombardment. Here the doctors and stretcher bearers and two chaplains of my division worked. In the course of my rounds as senior chaplain, I visited there and stayed a night and a day there. Saw something of their splendid work and have been instrumental in having them awarded the Military Cross for their gallantry and devotion. About 200 yards away one of the doctors found a wounded German wired to the ground. He had been there it is thought 15 days. He brought him in and asked me if I would go with him to look for others. I went but we found none. We entered a dugout which we followed for at least 100 yards under' ground, beneath cellars where a row of cottages had stood. These deep dugouts were unharmed by shells. In one, the Hun had made himself comfortable by taking furniture from the houses. Fine spring and wool mattresses, arm chairs, tables, mirrors and electric light enabled him to forget the rigors of the war. Here too he could retreat when our bombardment became too hot. The wonder is that we ever got him out of them. Their security was their undoing for our men advanced quickly and so closely to the barrage that they were unable to get out in a decent time or numbers to withstand the onslaught. The rest were trapped in their underground fortress, and were either bombed out or surrendered. It was a famous victory and made this division stand high in the esteem of corps commander. But on the sad desolation of this war. In that region as far as the eye can see, it is a desolation of this war. Not only will it be impossible for many of these poor people to find where their homes stood, but the peril from unexploded shells and bombs will make the reclamation of the land well night impossible. I can imagine former residents of Corcelette or other of the 40 villages retaken, clapping their hands with joy and saying, ‘we shall soon be able to go home.' HOME! HOME? Think of the shock they will get when they return.
My dear people, you have given of your best sons, given them willingly though with aching hearts, thank God that no ruthless foe had trod our Canadian soil. Our homes so far are safe, but the enemy is not yet crushed, not the conquered territory wrested from his cruel hands. He still does much as he likes, in the greater portion of Belgium, all of Serbia and much of France. From our lines here, with glasses, we can see his sentries marching at dawn the civilian population of a little town down to the coal mines to work. He keeps them there and lets us se them in a large numbers, knowing that our humane methods will prevent our bombing the town in which there are so many innocents. He uses them as a screen and sits as ease and comfort in the town using is as a base and billeting areas.
Turning now to personal things. I knew you are rejoicing with me in the new honor conferred upon me by my Alma Mater. I learned only yesterday that Knox College had given me a D.D. degree ‘in absentia'. It would be stupid and ungrateful of me to pretend that I am not proud of this horror. I am not sure which I appreciate most, the King's C.M.G. or my college's Doctorate I think in one respect the latter, as I feel that you of my church share that honor. I knew I shall never succeed in living up to all the dignity that these titles presuppose on to possess. Not shall I try to assume a dignity I don't feel. I am sure you don't want me to. I shall be happy if I continue to receive the affection and confidence of those for whom in the providence of God, it has been my privilege to minister since July 28, 1900.
This year has been one marked by your signal effort to put the financial affairs of the church upon sound basis. I rejoice to know you have succeeded so well and I hope that the fine beginning will spur every one to still better things, and that when the war is over the splendid gifts, which you are continually making to the Red Cross and other war charities, will be turned into the missionary treasure as a thank offering for the delivery of our land from the devastations of war.
If it did not fall to Mr. Horne's lot to read this letter to you, I would like to say how grateful I am to him for the faithful and loyal service he has rendered. Some day I hope in your presence to say these things.
I know that many of you are living under constant strain and anxiety. Fear of evil tidings hag like a grim specter over thousands of homes. May the God of peace comfort you in the midst of war, and give you courage is the prayer of
Your affectionate pastor,