I don't know what you will think of this letter as I haven't any one of yours to answer, but as I was sent over here and didn't like to lose more of your letters than necessary or have to wait too long a time for one, I determined to write and let you know my whereabouts and how I got here.
As you know, our Canadian Infantry stormed and captured Vimy Ridge on the morning of the 9th of April. The observation posts from which our officers were accustomed to direct the fire of the brigade and batteries, previous to the attack, did not command a view of the ground which sloped back towards enemy territory, from the crest of the ridge, and so, four signalers were chosen from each battery and four from the H.D.S. of the brigade to go over the top with the infantry, so that we could get our lines in and send back the orders which the officers in charge of the firing would give. Thus I was able to participate quite actively in an infantry attack.
We left our meeting point, which was our battery, at 11. o clock on the night of the 8th. In the afternoon we had a sort of try out and the Colonel and Mr. Bright, the officer who was going up with us and who was the favourite lieutenant in the battery, were quite satisfied that we were able to handle the job. After traversing about a mile of trenches, little did I think I would retrace my steps as soon as I did, we arrived at the entrance of a long tunnel which we entered and proceeding almost to the other end of it made ourselves comfortable and awaited the signal. In the tunnel was the end test box of a system of buried cable and we fastened our wires on the lives set apart for us and were ready for the time when the hands on the clock should point 5.30 A.M..
Our guns had been silent almost all night (the war correspondents said in their reports, that we bombarded him almost continually, if we did, they didn't make any noise along our front) but at 5.30 the barrage was opened up. Even down in the tunnel, which was close to 60 feet deep, the sound was like a vast roll of thunder. We hurried out and I do not think I shall ever forget the sight which met our eyes as we reached the lip of the crater into which the tunnel ran.
A couple hundred yards in front of us was the first wave of the attack, the figures of the men were outlined against the murk and the smoke of the most stupendous barrage the war has seen. The greyness of the early dawn was increased by a thin misty drizzle of rain which was gradually turning the powdered and broken ground into sticky wet clayey mud.
We hurried on skirting large shell craters leaping over small ones, but bent on getting to a position where our officers would be able to observe the enemy and correct the fire of our brigade.
I do not think that it will ever be possible to forget the havoc wrought by our artillery fire. His trenches were completely demolished; mere ditches but a foot or two deep was all that remained of one of the most elaborate and intricate system of trench defences on his whole front. Machine gun emplacements were blotted out by the accuracy and steadiness of the fire of our heavies. The landscape was pitted with shell holes, some small, some almost incredibly large and the majority of these had pools of water in them. The soft ground dampened by rains made going very difficult but we managed to escape getting mired.
At his third line, the Boshe had a strong point which had not been as completely demolished as the rest of his defences and from here he began to put up a firing from rifles and machine guns. While going across some rather high ground I was hit by a rifle bullet which had hit a wire stake or other hard substance and ricocheted from it. It was badly dented but had lost considerable speed and while it did not go very deep it made a rather nasty wound in my side. Hardwick, of whom you have perhaps heard Allen speak, was right behind me, and, as I lay wondering what had happened, he stooped over me and was almost immediately shot through both thighs. Some of the other boys got us into a near by shell hole and roughly bandaged our wounds. We lay in the shell hole for half an hour or so as the bullets were singing above us a bit too strong for safety there.
In the meantime our officers, who was trying to get a line on things, was shot through the chest and died almost immediately. He was one of the finest officers I have served under. Possessed of an understanding and tact, which I have seldom seen equaled, he was loved alike by his fellow officers and by all the boys of the battery.
When that happened the Sergeant in charge went back for instructions and the boys got a stretcher for Hardwick, and I walked down to the dressing station. By various stages I was sent to England and now I find myself a the Convalescent Hospital with the hole in my side almost completely healed up.
It was very painful for the first week or two but now is not giving me any trouble at all, and I am able to get out and take advantage of the beautiful weather which we are enjoying at present. We are well cared for here and have nothing to do but get ourselves healed up.
This is the longest letter I have written for some time I hope I haven't wearied you with all that yarn. But it seemed when I started to tell about that attack that I had to keep on.
I hope you are enjoying the same sort of lovely weather there which are here. One can hardly get enough of the warm beautiful sunshine.
Hoping this finds you in good health and able to enjoy life to the full.
Harold E. Panabaker
Canadian Convalescent Hospital
Hut 14 Div. G.