LETTER FROM DR. JOHN R. IRWIN (IN FRANCE)
Mr. Jas. D. Haig received following letter from Dr. John
R. Irwin, who has won the Military Cross for conspicuous bravery and faithfulness to duty, which we are glad to be allowed to publish, knowing well that it will prove of interest to our readers:
France, July 22nd, 1916
I do not remember when I heard from you, but have been moving about too much and it too hot a comer in this push down south to write even to my wife. Before we came south - I am attached to the 2nd Worcestershire Regiment, I went into our front line at midnight to a mine shaft which the enemy blew up by a mine, burying two of our men. Two more died from gas due to the explosion and a few more were knocked out by it. I went down thirty feet and out 390 feet bent double all the time, except when I had to crawl on hands and knees. The perspiration was just pouring out allover and dropping off my chin and sometimes it was difficult to breathe. I spent an hour there working with those chaps and was rewarded by an immediate reward of the military cross.
Down south here I met Dave Burn, Arthur Hopper, Ben Whitehead, and a couple of other men with a Heavy Battery and you may be sure I was glad to see them all. We have had seven consecutive days in the line where the French say the bombardment is even worse than Verdun. Of course I cannot verify that, but cannot conceive how it can be any worse. Some of the Battalions were frightfully cut up, but our men are good at digging in and the officers are first class, so did not suffer as bad as some others. One day I spent ten hours in a big shell hole with my corporal, thirty yards behind the line, when the Huns were fairly plastering our line with shells and machine gun fire. I dressed there what wounded I could gather and when I could risk it, sent them back to the ambulance in the rear. When it was quiet, I went out to the front line trench to see how the men were bearing up under the strain. I was sniped at a few times, but was thankful to see that he went wide of me. When in the hole, all I had to eat was a tin of bully beef, but had plenty of water.
We were relieved in the midst of a terrific enemy bombardment and missed shells by feet and bullets by inches. To say that I was glad to get out does not half express my feelings of relief.
Since that time I have been sleeping in a shallow hole in the ground with a ground sheet over me to keep out the rain, in deep Hun dugouts thirty feet down, very comfortable, and in dugouts in banks not more than four feet long, so was not always comfortable.
For five days we had no water to shave or wash our hands. Our clothes and bodies were in a frightfully dirty condition, so you could imagine how you could stand this kind of a show. The noise of those shells falling within a few feet of you, the dead and wounded all around you, some of those buried by shells being dug out by others, trees in the wood falling like corn and to add to it all those prussic acid shells falling in and around you, make the nerves of the strongest man shaky, but it is marvelous how our men stood up under it all. We are now due for a rest, and are on our way back. So we are able to wash and shave and to eat with a knife and fork once more, so feel more of less civilized.
I saw a good air flight and a Hun plane dropped seven- ty yards from me in our lines, so feel that I have seen and experienced all that I desire for a while.
Your old friend,