LOCAL LETTERS FROM FRONT IN FRANCE
Rev. W.E. Cockshott has received the following letter from his son, Basil Cockshott, No. 3 Company, 7th Battalion, Canadian Overseas Contingent, France dated May 20, 1915.
"We are getting into the middle of things now. Shells bursting over the place and our batteries kicking up a most infernal noise just behind us. Last night we got into dugouts and lay like sardines in the most horrible dirt. We have had some very wearying moving about with the Web equipment, including a small blanket, overcoat, kit, etc., and 150 rounds of ammunition, also a heavy rifle. The last few days have been miserably wet and the roads in an awful state, but you soon get used to it. On the road we flow down in six inches of mud to rest, just lie down in it. Today is very bright and fine and we have taken the opportunity of having a good wash and sun baths. We have only had one change of underwear since we left Folkestone. I am quite well and fit, though going a bit thin. The Canadians did splendid at Ypres, though at a fearful loss, and we are all waiting to get our own back again now. We have the batteries near us and they are sending shells screaming overhead every minute. Then you hear a sort of shriek gradually growing less and less, then bomb, bomb. German shrapnel in the field next to us. Occasionally a Jack Johnson comes over. They are always shuffling the cross roads to bust up reinforcements and supplies. At night the Germans continually throw up lights to see if we are creeping up on their trenches. They are all scared of the bayonet. This morning I saw an aeroplane scouting. If you spot one you have to give one long blast on a whistle and then everyone hides and keeps still until it is ascertained if it is a German or an ally; if it is a German you can bet your life some shells will come floating over in the next hour. I have stopped six times while writing this while an aeroplane had been spotted. I think there will be scrapping with some Germans before it is finished. They fire shrapnel at them but they are very hard to hit. I am telling...... to send over a pair of socks and a towel every ten days. Socks are absolutely necessary. I had a swim in the Yser canal three days ago. I was never so thankful for my knowledge of French as I am now. When a whole crowd are in a restaurant getting drinks or food, etc., it takes them about an hour to get served, but if you just tell madame in French what you want you get it right away. I drink chiefly white tine, also coffee, the water isn't good at all. All alone we have been billeted in farm houses, some very good, but some are rotten. What we want here is chocolate galore and tobacco. You must smoke; the smell is appalling, there are so many dead bodies, etc. I have a respirator for gas, to be strapped over the face. I think that the Germans are retreating now. My love to father; how is he? He would love to be here I know. The chaplain of B. company is quite a good sort, but I believe he is trying to cut down the rum ration, also the Archbishop of Canterbury, or some other. I should like to get some of these would be reformists and stick them in our platoon for a week and give them a dose of fighting some cold wet night and they wouldn't be so keen to do away with the little drop of rum which is dished out. A most terrific shrapnel has burst about 400 yards away; five explosions from one shell about 12,000 bullets. We are fairly safe here. (Later). Had to make an aeroplane shift. Artillery getting louder and louder, hardly hear yourself speak, we may have a night attack tonight. I saw a Colonist, and an article on the 48 training, absolute bosh, all they want to know is how to shoot, take cover, and march all day on a tin of bully beef and biscuit. Send this letter to Maurice when you get through with it. I cannot write more than one, my nerves won't stand it. A French battery came up with us last night. The French soldiers are very jolly. We have a most cute travelling kitchen, cooks while on the way; also a kind of thermos box for keeping things hot. The British transport is unexcelled anywhere in the world and the Canadian is very good for an amateur army. You have got to have iron nerves and a steel constitution here. The whistle and shriek of the shells is dreadful. Am writing now inside the dugout, not safe outside. Being able to speak French I rake round and strike all kinds of bargains. Must close now, with love to F. Your affectionate son.