"Behind the lines"
According to my diary it is ten days since I last wrote you (Aug. 20th). Since then I have been as a man in one long dream, days of which were pleasant others not so pleasant. It is now 8:45 P.M. & we are visiting in a small village about ten miles behind our front line. We marched twelve kilometres since two o'clock this afternoon & we are all pretty tired. Our Coy. Left the front line at 3 A.M. on 29th (yesterday) & marched back over the country which we had taken from the Hun in our rush of Aug. 26th-28th gee we were all in but kept going with only one rest until we landed in a big city on the western front about 8.30 A.M. Had breakfast & tumbled into our rolls & I slept right thru till they ordered me up to go on a billeting party at 6 P.M. It was an awful rush & I piled out & went billeting & I hadn't had so much as a wash, let alone a shave, for a whole week. We stayed in cellars last night on account of the usual long range shelling out the town we were in.
I guess by now you will have gleaned from my letter that I have been in a scrap. Well you are right & a real scrap it was too. Not a case of into the line to hold the trench, but rather, over the top after only one hour in the front line & a rush in the dark & on into daylight right through until noon. In this time we found we had reached our final objective & had pushed forward five miles. Gee but it was sure some initiation for me, but the hardest part of it all was that first single hour of waiting until our barrage opened up at 3 A.M. and we jumped off. It was a grand advance & our barrage was wonderful. The artillery gave us a gun for every 12 yards of our front so you can imagine that when they opened up on the hun front line it was too late to give instructions to anyone. If I had shouted in anyone's ear they wouldn't have known I was speaking at all. As well as our artillery barrage our Divisional Machine gun battalion put up their barrage too. They made so much noise whistling over our heads that the Boche shells bursting around us were hardly noticeable as regards their noise.
Well, I could go on for hours talking about the bally thing but I must mention our casualties. The Hun seemed to be depending upon the large number of his machine guns rather than his artillery to hold us back. About 1/3 of the distance to our objective we came under heavy machine gun fire just crossing a high ridge known as "Orange bill." The "Imperials" on our left (across the Scarpe river) were much slower in there advance than ourselves & the hun was firing from a wood across the river right into our left flank. We at once sized up the situation & hurried forward & down into the valley. It was on the top of this ridge that we had the only officer in our Coy. killed. It was a Mr. Shannon who was in charge of #4 Platoon. He was shot through the head with a machine gun bullet so never really knew what happened. The poor fellow had just returned from leave & was just aching to get into another scrap.
I am sorry that I have to mention poor Carey McKee was among the list of killed. He went forward with "B" Coy. just ahead of us. They reached their first, second, & final objective (the town of Monchy) with only a few casualties. The hun by this time seemed absolutely up in the air & was evacuating & leaving everything behind in his endeavor to escape our our rush. The opposition seemed so slight that the company instead of stopping pushed on past the town & into the open. As far as I know Carey was still with them. In front of them there was another small wood & apparently the enemy had it full of machine guns. Here he made his stand, & opened up such a heavy fire that "B" Coy. had to retire at once to where they could get a line of trenches for cover. They suffered heavily coming back but soon got settled down in a bunch of shell holes. One of the officers (M. Wilson of "B" Coy.) told me that McKee, his Sergt. & two men got into a shell hole together. In another shell hole close bye they had seen a wounded R.C.R. soldier. The latter seemed to be suffering very much so Carey got up to move over & see if the fellow's wounds had been dressed just as a large shell burst right on top of his same shell hole. Carey, the Sergt. & the wounded man were killed outright so none of them had any suffering to hear. The other two men were badly wounded. I know about where he was buried the same day & I think our Padre has erected a cross over his resting place. It is about two hundred yards to the north west of the Village of "Monchy." McKee was doing fine work here. It was his third time over the top & I guess he saw as much fighting as any man out here for the length of time that he was at it. His platoon had grown to look upon him as a chum & a leader & his Coy. officers respected him as a gentleman & a conscientious officer. I have thought of writing his people but perhaps if you showed them this it would do just as well. Use your own judgment about the matter.
We had seven officers killed & four wounded in all. I dont know how many N.C.O's & men we had casuals but not over 75 or 100 I think. I had #2 Platoon throughout & they did splendid work & respected every order given by myself even though it was my first fight. I had only three casualties in my platoon but they meant quite a loss as you will see. On the A.M. of 26th one of my men by name of Burgis was wounded while working as a stretcher bearer on Batt. Hqrs. On 27th I had no casuals & we took a breathing spell & kept the men in deep dugouts except for a post here & there along the trench just to watch the enemy's movements. On the afternoon of the 28th the batt. moved over to a position on the south side of Monchy to support an attack by the 43rd Camerons & 58th batt's. About 6 P.M. we advanced in artillery formation under a rather heavy high explosive and gas shell bombardment. I was at the head of the platoon with the Sgt. in rear. A N.E. shrapnel shell exploded just in rear of us & pieces of it wounded my Sgt. in the right forearm & my #1 man of my second Lewis gun crew just in the left shoulder blade. My senior corporal automatically became platoon Sgt. & #2 of the gun took charge of the Lewis gun. Our open formation certainly kept down our casualties.
Ralph West went out wounded but I guess he's allright as his brother Percy says he was a "walking" case. Russ Ferrier came through it O.K. & in the final stages was put on some important patrol work in no man's land. You can tell his people that he's "making good" here fast.
Well I'm pretty tired & footsore so will roll in. Hope to get time to finish this & get it off in the morning. "Bon Soir."
1 P.M. Saturday Aug. 31st.
Well I've just finished a good lunch of Pork & Beans, Tomatoes & potatoes, also sago pudding bread & tea. Even with that the officers are kicking at me for not feeding them fresh meat. Mr McKenzie is leaving at any time to take charge of our re-enforcements at the wing & I have been made Mess President. I have just given our "caterer" 20 francs to see if he cant find us some eats in this village. I doubt if he can, there's not much here. I had a dandy sleep last night & am feeling pretty well rested after our trip in the field.
We got 75 reinforcements in yesterday & among them was the lad who used to be Major Chenoweth's hatman when we were in Quebec. He went to "C" Coy. but I am having him transferred today as the batman I have had is no "bonne." He can't even read or write. Sixty more men came in today so we are again filled up. Also six more officers came in, and one of them to my coy. so that puts me up a wee step higher as I am no longer the junior sub of the coy. Our seniority dates from time of joining the unit.
I had my platoon on parade for a couple of hours this A.M. We are putting through some promotions & my only Corporal is to become platoon Sergeant. An old 196th (#7 Platoon) boy who is a Lance Corporal with me will be made corporal & I am sending another old 196th boy down to take an N.C.O's course at the wing. I have three old 196th "B" Coy. lads in my platoon. One of them was in #8 with me but not for long. He joined up late in the summer at camp Hughes.
Mr. Young got a bunch of Bdn. Suns this morning so I will look them over as soon as I finish this letter. My last letter form you arrived while I was at pommera before I went into the line. I am looking for more any day now. I am keeping up my diary as best I can but I can't take it into the line so have to write it up from memory when I come out.
I have been wishing lately that some of my lost parcels would reach me. The ground was so badly cut up with shell holes after our advance that it was hard to get the rations up to us, the result that we went pretty hungry for a day or two. Now I'm trying to make up but can't even get filled up back here. I know that Eva sent me some parcels that never reached me. There may be some others too.
I was wishing that you could have seen my poor servant trying to get me a meal under fire. For a day & a half it was easy as we were down a dry dug-out & he could cook with ease. At other times he'd try to get me a pot of tea where we happened to pause in some trench or shell hole. Once he had a pretty fair looking meal ready to give me when a big shell burst so close that he kicked over the tea & spilt some bacon he was trying to fry. On another occasion he was all ready when the order suddenly came in to move forward. We had to move at once so no meal was had that time either.
I have a couple of little souvenirs here that a fine big Hun handed over "Tout de suite" on demand, such as a cap, shoulder strap of the 23rd (Skidoo) gunman battalion & his personal cigar case. In the next push I'll try & get you a real gunman watch or a compass. I may have a chance at a little revolver. The hard part is getting things out to you from here. If I could ship the things any way I'd furnish the den in my future home with Bosche helmets, guns, bayonets, machine guns, uniforms, respirators & dear knows what not. I think I'll drop a line to Geo. McL. Brown & see if he'll handle my goods. Ha! Ha! I'll try & find a hop this afternoon & send you the tunic cap & cigar case. The base censor may throw them away, there's no telling if he examines them.
Bye the way I wish you'd put me straight as to my assigned pay from February to August inclusive. They have been over-paying me and now I have to forfeit over $100 I expect, to make good the overpayment. It doesn't make much difference however as I need very little money to keep me going out here. The only thing is I'll need a surplus to see me through my leave when it comes.
One of our Capts went on leave yesterday & Capt. Petherick is likely to go any day now. If we make another try into the line it will likely by with Major Bradbrooke [?] the Coy. My first leave will hardly come before the new year. If I'm lucky it may come at Xmas but the old men will be given the foriference at Xmas I expect.
I still have your letters of July 29th or 31st written at Kenora. They are the last I have received. I have read them & find nothing in particular to answer. I have been busy this forenoon trying to get a pair of Tommies breeches from our Q.M. I have a pair on now but are too large. I'll have to try another pair. My first pair of officers breeches that I got with my uniform in Wpg. In Jan. 1917. I wore for the last time this trip in the line. They certainly lasted wonderfully. When I came out they were torn to pieces about the knees & I was about to fall right out of them at the seat. I discarded them yesterday in arras. I wore my tommies tunic through it all & some of the officers remarked as we were advancing "There's no chance of them sniping you as being an officer Maharg you're the toughest looking nut in the coy." I guess they were right too. It rained hard all through our advance & I was mud from tin lid to the studs on my boots. My maps got so wet that the paper surfaces rubbed off & made the features on the map unrecogniseable. I finally threw them away, they got so mussy. I carried a heavy pack with my trench coat in it & a bunch of rations & S.O.S flares as well as extra rounds of ammunition for my "gat." I thought it would be heavy but I never even knew I was carrying anything after we got moving. There were other things more important to occupy my attention.
Well I think I'll ring off now or I'll never get finished. Heaps of love to all & if you have the necessaries send me a couple of nut loafs & do them up in a strong tin box.
M. XXXXXXXX Son Ivan