Bang! Crash! Now then, show a leg there! "You can't go sleeping all day!"
The time was 4:15 A.M. on a cold damp morning last February. The place Lark-Hill on Salisbury Plain. The scene was laid in a hut in which slept some thirty Canadians. The voice was the voice of the Orderly Sargeant: and it seemed exceedingly out of place. I became quite conscious, I remembered why I was being dragged from a warm bed at such an unearthly hour; and became more reconciled with my hard (!) lot. To-day, had come the climax of six months hard training. We were at last going forward to France to do something. There were a hundred & 1 things to be done so up we had to get. After a tremendous rush we were ready for [sentence crossed out and edited] to Amesbury. Then the Unknown started. No one knew whither we were bound: but there were many ready with conjectures. We got on board the transports at a port in the west of England not a hundred miles from Bristol. Until we were well clear of the English Coast we were accompanied by a Destroyer: for at that time the German submarines had begun to get active. Some ten days previous to this 5 steamers had been torpedoed off the north of the Mersey. After 3 days very rough traveling (we lost seven horses on my transport) we arrived at a Western Port of France. It felt good to be on dry land again. I can assure you a transport is by no means the most comfortable way of traveling! We were too tightly packed for comfort, especially for a 3 day trip. And there are no cabins or anything like that. Just a plain hold.
The French troop trains are not quite so comfortable as the Flying Cornishman for instance. They consist of vans, marked '8 Chevaux, 40 Hommes': I think I would far sooner travel with 8 horses than 39 men! We traveled for two and a half days across very interesting country. It was bitterly cold all the time. And the vans were by no means wind proof! We were very glad indeed to have the sheepskin coat they issued us when we landed. After a seven mile march we arrived at Coestre. C. is a small village where they say the first V.C. of the War was won. Here we had our first experience of "Billets": I am afraid my preconceived idea of 'Billets' was badly shattered! I had expected a private house or a cottage with the good 'femme' to cook for us. What we actually got was a big, none too sweet smelly barn, with a very thin suggestion of straw on the ground! Certainly a rude awakening! One Flemish farm is much like another! You enter through a large gateway, with heavy wooden gate, big enough for a large waggon to go through. The buildings form the sides of a square: house on one side, barns and stable on the other three. There is generally a paved brick path round the inside. In the centre is a large manure pile. There is sure to be a pump some-where near the door of the house: a big cumbersome affair, which generally takes a lot of working; & when you do get the water it is not fit to drink! There is always a big savage dog chained up: his kennel is built right into the building. He is used for light farm labour: he has to work in a big treadmill which runs various crude machines. In Belgium he also pulls small carts. Indeed it is no uncommon sight to see a farmer come tearing along the road at about 5 miles an hour seated in a small cart drawn by two dogs! We used to call these animals 'Pull-dogs'! The only exercise they got is this work: so they soon learn to put their whole hearts (and backs too) into it!
After a week's strenuous work there, we marched some 19 miles to near Armentier. That was the first really hard work that I had done, or so it seemed. Our whole equipment weighed about 50 pounds, altho the big valises off our backs had gone on the transport: about 150 I think, when we reached our destination. What made it harder was the road - the pave - the military roads of France & Belgium (and Germany too I believe) are paved with square stones, very uneven & hard on the feet. It was here we got our first experience of the trenches. We went in a platoon at a time with the Imperial Regiments for instruction. That is how a new Regiment is always initiated into trench work. We were some six miles back from the firing line, and started off late in the afternoon. Just when it was getting dark we arrived at a deserted village with all its houses shattered by shell-fire. This was our rendez-vous. Here we were to pick up a guide to take us to our position. This was the last connecting link with the outside world. We were, indeed, on the edge of the Unknown. After it got dark we moved off carrying our rations with us. The way lay over fields almost knee deep in mud, the portion of our rations that fell to my lot was a sack of coke. The trenches were more like a muddy ditch than anything else.