Somewhere in Belgium.
Sept 27 1915
My Dear Mother.
Since I last wrote we have made three moves. I cannot tell you where we have been, but that is immaterial. I can tell you all about that some other time, when I get home perhaps. From our first billets we made a march of about 12 miles. I did not march all the way, as I did the first time. Just before we started I made friends with one of the drivers of a London omnibus and he invited me to ride with him on the front seat. I was very glad of the chance as it was a very hot day and the roads were not too good, up hill most of the way in fact. It is strange that I should have my first ride in a London doubledeck omnibus in France and Belgium.
All the time I was in London I never thought of riding in one of the blooming things as they looked so top-heavy and rough looking. However circumstances alter conditions and I was very glad to accept the invitation.
On arriving at our billets we found ourselves quartered at a Belgian farmhouse. And of all the dirty holes I ever was in, well it was the worst ever.
The idea of the Belgian farmer, so far as I can make out, is to choose a big dirty foul-smelling manure pile and then to build his buildings around it. The closer to the pile he can get his back door the more up-to-date his plant is. Then his stables and outhouses all open into this square. To reach the back door you must plod thru this muck. The other three sides of the house are surrounded by the proverbial moat, filled with dirty water, covered with green scum. There is no official entrance to the front of the house, but there is a door opening into the moat, used principally to throw the refuse thru, into the moat.
At first we tried to eat in the kitchen, in fact we ate two meals there, but we could not stand it. The smell of tile house backyard and moat, all combined, was too much for us, so we went out into the yard, and ate in a shack. Then the old lady would not let us use her stove so we had to dig trenches and cook over them. I don't want to commence on the inhabitants but I will say they corresponded favorably with the surroundings. And flies, I mean FLIES! They are entitled to capital letters all the way thru, they were so much in evidence. The first day I went in to buy some bread, as we were short of the issue bread. Over on the table in the corner I saw something black, which after she had taken up in her hands, turned out to be bread, which had been literally covered with the brutes.
And just a word about prices. She charged up 15 cents for the festive bread, butter 50 cents a pound, eggs 6 cents a piece, and a penny (2 cents) extra each for boiling them. Everything else in proportion. One would think we were American tourists, instead of Canadians who had left good homes to come to fight for them. And at that we were just about 2 ï¿½ miles from the front trenches, and shells flying all about us. I was blooming well disgusted with the beggars, and I told them so thru the interpreter. Don't think I am complaining as I felt much better as soon as I got out of the place. We were only there three days but if we had to stay there longer, I would be in favor of letting the Germans have the blamed country.
Next move was a very short one, just a few hundred yards. This time it was to a large farmhouse. The buildings were really fine, that is from the outside. Our interpreter told us that they had cost $60,000 in our money. But the same conditions existed here, only that the manure pile and moat were larger in proportion, and the stench greater. There were beds in the house, but owing to my good eyesight I preferred to sleep on the floor. I also detected living creatures in the heads of the women folk, which did not add much pleasure to our sojourn especially when we had to eat their butter and drink their coffee.
These peasants have three very prominent characteristics. They have many more, but these are very noticeable. They seldom sleep, they often eat, but never wash. And just a word as to the water. If you ever intend to travel thru Belgium, be sure to take a good supply of drinking water with you. The water is absolutely rotten. I don't mind telling that when tea or coffee is not available, which sometimes happens, I drink beer or light French wine, which is just like vinegar. I see no difference in white wine vinegar and the wine over here. I do not like any of the stuff, but I cannot take a chance on the water. The Brigadier tells us to drink the beer and wine, and you know what he is on those matters. I would pay a dollar a glass for your good hard water right now, and would continue to do so as long as my small wad lasted. Our last move was to another dirty farmhouse. This time, as usual, they offered us the kitchen, but I was too wise and promptly refused their offer. So we went out into the yard and with what lumber we could find, we built a combination mess and sleeping shack. We covered it in with tarpaulin and have quite a nice place. And that is where I am writing this, lying on the ground bed and writing with a candle. It is some life but I am enjoying it and am having the very best of health. I am very sleepy so will go right to sleep.
Lots of love for all the family.