BUILDING ENTANGLEMENTS COSTLY
An Interesting Letter From the Front by Lieut. J.G. McMillan
The following letter has been received by Mr. Donald McMillan, Dunwich, from his son, Lieut. J.G. McMillan, who in December enlisted with No. 1. Tunneling Company:
FRANCE MAY 2, 1916.
I am too busy to write letters now and expect to be busier still as I was told to-day that I will be given a section. This will mean, if I make good, a promotion. We have not been in so hot a place as Verdun, though before long we are to be sent to a salient that is nearly as bad. We had the first man killed in our section on April 28. He was shot at night while putting a roof on a magazine. He belonged to the attached infantry, who had only recently come from St. Eloi to a quieter part of the line for a rest. The same night, almost at the same time, a sergeant of the infantry company holding the line at the front was instantly killed by an explosive bullet in the stomach. He and an officer with the same men were wiring a hedge in front of the parapet, when he stood up and was seen. Serg. Colly Walker thought nothing of going over the parapet (cover) on a misty morning; but perhaps became too venturesome. He was an amateur boxer well up for the championship of Scotland. A third man, who was on a working party back in the parapet, was also hit with an explosive bullet that night. The putting up of a wire is costly work.
I have seen what officers said was a thousand shells dropped in less than a quarter mile of line and only caused four casualties - two killed and two wounded. The same night one company had seven casualties putting up wire. Next night the next company lost the sergeant, and the night following another company had four wounded.
Artillery fire is the most terrifying at times, but unless extremely heavy soldiers will remain under cover in comparative safety, and will remain even in the open holding a trench without by any means being wiped out until the trench becomes completely obliterated. Concentrated artillery fire is generally used in preparation for an attack. The bombardment just mentioned was on an adjoining part of the front, where an attack followed the second enemy bombardment. Their first lasted one and a half hours the last half hour of this and an hour following. Everything appeared to be over and I tried to get to where some of my men were, when like a clap of thunder, the Bosch artillery started, followed immediately by our guns of all calibre. This lasted for an hour. In the middle of this the Bosch made their attacks, which was apparently more of a raid to secure information than a real attack. They were warmly received and forced back, leaving large numbers of bombs in our trenches. Some were hung up on the wire, and one, likely an officer, was found dead in the front line. He had a map of two trenches, but no marks by which we could identify him.
Our company had eighteen men buried for as many hours following this bombardment. These belonged to the section in that part of the front to which I belong.
You may wonder how the Germans get maps of the trenches. This is easy. They can be made from aeroplane photographs. Each side has photographs of all the other's trenches. Our intelligence department does not take a back seat to any of them in the matter of securing information.
The enemy has been rather more active on our part of the line lately and has made several attacks with gas not a great way from here. We had one alarm, but no gas other than from their shells, some of which are bad enough. Sometimes quite a number of their shells fail to explode, they are blinds or dubs in the phraseology of the front. Some of these expressions are quite quaint, "Cherro" is the favorite salutation when parting. On meeting it is always "good morning" or "good afternoon."
Lieut. 1st Can. Co R.E.