DR. O'BRIEN WRITES OF LIFE IN SERBIA
Gives a Most Graphic Account of an Artillery Action on the Bulgarian Front in a Letter to Dr. G. B. Brown.
My Dear Dr. Brown:
The Xmas parcel came along a few days ago and Frost, Ewen (New Westminster) McKechnie (Vancouver) and I have already had a good share of cheer out of it. Thanks very much. Kindest regards to Mrs. B.
What do you think of the German move in precipitating war with the U.S.? Do you think he is trying to save his face before his own people? Or do you think he figures it will take the U.S. most of a year to put sufficient land forces anywhere to effect a decision that he fancies they can hold the western front this year, and that he is going to do all possible damage to our merchant marine, possible cause food shortage in England and beget war weariness?
There must be considerable flurry at home what? We have been having a lot of stir here over semi-official notice that the Canadian units were to be recalled. The powers that be change their minds in so far as the have any, and the thing may not come off. Some of the officers would like a change, but it is up to us to stick where we are sent, and there is quite a feeling amongst us that the bally politicians are at the bottom of it, and even though we may not relish another summer's heat and malaria and dysentery, we can "carry on," and we would rather do so than be juggled around by wire pullers. If there are Canadian soldiers everywhere who are not being satisfactorily treated, It is another question, but that has not been shown and though personally I should like to be in France, where probably there are going to be the biggest doings, it is quite indifferent whether we treat English, Scotch, Serb or what not. And there is lots to do. Our hospital has been increased to 1700 beds and when anything is on it is full.
Early in October I had a run up to the trenches. You have to imagine a plain about 8.10 miles in width, with hills bounding the plain, running up to 3000 feet above it with a river going through the middle of it with bits of bush along the river and with villages scattered at intervals.
We motored along a hilly road, and at last dropped over the brow and wound down the slope. We soon picked up the officer who was to meet us. He said it would be as well to leave the car, as the road a few rods further on was under shell fire and they might take a fancy to mess up the motor. We walked along a quarter of a mile and picked up horses in a gully.
Except for an odd gun sticking out here and there, and detachments of troops stowed away on the sheltered ground, you would not think of war. We rode ahead about 1 Â½ miles and got to the regimental headquarters.
This would be about 800 yards behind the trenches. We were in a dugout, eight of us, having dinner about 9.20 p.m. when a young artillery officer by the way, too, one of the few prisoners of war in Germany who made his getaway, came in and personally dropped the information that there was a little "do" on at 9.30 .We were stilling looking at our watches when just on the stroke our guns cut loose and we had some entertainment. It is wonderful how the artillerymen conceal themselves. You might run on top of a battery before you would guess its whereabouts. Well, our guns were placed along the ridge and in the plain behind us, the field artillery closer, and the heavies back away, and they had figured that Johnny Bulgar was moving some stuff, somewhere along a spot they had marked, or was doing something he shouldn't be doing, and they thought they would help him along.
It was very fine. The night was dark, and we could see the flash of the guns of the various batteries, then the shells would come over those of the field guns screaming along, and the heavy ones groaning, and presently we would hear them burst way beyond the enemy lines. We timed them after, and the big ones took about 50 seconds from the time we heard the report of our guns until we heard the bursting shell. The French were off on our right, and they were also busy.
Next morning we were standing watching one of our airmen scouting over the enemy positions when we suddenly spied a German taube behind us. I was watching just about a certain knoll, when a cloud of earth burst up, followed in a second by another. The Bosch had dropped a couple of bombs in an attempt to put some of our anti-aircraft guns out of business. Then he beat it for his own lines, and we had again the shelling from our side. The aeroplane was nearly over us and we were wondering whether or not to hop into the dugout when one of our batteries hidden somewhere 300 yds behind us let go a salvo. You should have seen me duck. I thought my hat was knocked off at least. Everything was set, you see. I was wondering if the Germans would drop a bomb, and behold this row. And you can hardly imagine what a row a battery of field artillery makes at close quarters. It is a much more splitting, terrifying noise than that of the howitzers.
When the big shells are going over you would think you should see them. You can follow their course by the peculiar sort of rolling groan they make, the boys call them the "Lazy Lizzies."
After breakfast the colonel asked me if I would like to go with him along the lines, which was just what I wanted. We went up under cover of the bush. Our fellows had cleared the Bulgars out a short time before and had then rushed the river six days before I was up, and had established themselves across the river. They had waded the river at a ford and the engineers had put up a trestle in 2 Â½ hours. It was quite interesting to see the men at the front. They were cooking breakfast and had a fairly decent time. We crossed the river to the listening post and in front of us was debated territory. About 300 yards away were Bulgar trenches and the plain was covered with short shrub. I got up behind our wire entanglements and got a good snapshot of a Bulgar look-out.
Machine guns were buried in suitable spots, ready for a counter attack. The trees were knocked about a good deal by the shell fire of the week before and we got several bits of shell, etc.
About noon the Bulgars shelled a corn field off to our right a bit- they evidently thought our battery was his in there.
Some amusing things go on. The Bulgars knew just where our heavy guns were, and they had a movable search light, which they were fond of turning on at night and they would turn it just on our guns. Our men would get hot and let go at the light four miles away. As soon as the Bulgars saw the flash of our guns they would switch off their light so that our men could not see the effects of their shots. As soon as the shells burst they would come back with the light. So a sort of hide and seek was kept up for some time.
We left on a Thursday morning and on Friday afternoon our fellows took another kick at the Bulgars. One of the officers with whom we were visiting was killed and three others wounded. A general engagement must make a gloomy mess for a while.
Well, when is this thing going to get over? We shall sure be some tickled men when we are taking a snap shot of the coast of England from the stern of a vessel.
I hear Herb was going up to Nanaimo for New Years. How is he looking? There has been a change in the political world of B.C. lately, I hear. How are things going round town? Did they go ahead with paving Nicol street and Milton street, and Comox road? How are the Shaws? Is Lance Warn still above turf?
I was so sorry to hear of Don Planta and Jim Caldwell. I hear Murray Planta has also enlisted. Pretty good stuff, what?
I ran across Dick Good here a few days ago and he is looking splendid. He has filled out a great deal and is brown as a hazel nut.
Kindest regards to Mrs. B. and Donald.
Dr. J. O'BRIEN.