April 5th, 1917.
My dear Lillian, Mother & Son:-
Having lots of time on my hands and being now completely out of danger, I thought perhaps you three, also my other loved ones, and also my good friends in Canada would be interested to hear exactly what a wounded soldier passes through from the time he is hit by a little "Made in Germany: until the time he arrives safely in "Blighty."
The word "Blighty" is used for the word England by the boys in the trenches, so I will put a title to this letter and call it "from the Front Line to Blighty - Wounded."
It is noon of the 27th January, Anderson, Maingot, Jackson, Pete and myself are taking our mid-day meal of good old "Bully" and hard tack. The weather is cold (below zero_ and we are sitting round a little fire, which really provides more smoke than actual heat. Bang goes a "Fritzie" shell which shakes the roof of our dug out, making it now quite unsafe should another shell land near it. We finish our lunch and decide to make a new dug out so as we will have a place for the night. Fritz is giving us lots of work, as our gun pit, known by us as 206, has also been blown in; we certainly have some work ahead of us, but it is all in the game.
Our boys have now opened up our other seven guns, and the German line must be a pretty hot place. Fritz retaliates with heavy shells, and as we work the air around us is anything but healthy. At. 1 p.m. we were having a regular scrap, the German shells making craters all around us. At 1.05 Jackson is shell shocked, and goes off for a rest; the rest of us keep plugging along, very busy dodging shells. At 1.30 I am hit with a piece of a 128 lb. Shell, which knocks me over. I try to walk, but can't, and so as you may realize how fast this iron travels through the air, I may state that I heard the report of the explosion after I was hit. Shrapnel travels at a greater velocity than the sound of the explosion.
The boys dragged me into their old dug out and, with their help, I soon had a bottle of iodine into the wound, and a very tight bandage round my whole leg, no stretcher bearers being near us, I am carried by Anderson, Maingot, Pete and a sapper, who comes to my assistance. No stretcher being handy, I lay on a piece of galvanized iron, an awkward thing to carry a fellow on, and not the warmest thing in the world to lie on in zero weather. The boys have an exceedingly hard time to get me to the dressing station, but in a couple of hours I arrive there, where my leg is put into a cardboard splint. Anderson turns to the doctor and asks the question, "Is it a Blighty?" The doctor says, "Well, it is not only a Blighty, but it means Canada for this boy." I cannot explain the feeling that came over me at that moment, to realize that I was going back to my beloved country and dear ones.
I was soon on the stretcher and, after thanking the boys, and shaping a farewell to them, was placed in a dug out to wait for a field ambulance. After being in the dug out about five hours, where I thought I would any minute freeze, the ambulance arrives. I am soon placed inside, two stretcher cases only myself and a poor Lieut. who has been sniped in the head. The balance of the wounded with us were walking cases.
Before we start across the land, which is covered with shell holes, the officer commands the driver to be very careful. "Two dangerous cases inside," he shouts, "Look out for holes and drive slowly." The night is pitch dark and I don't envy the driver.
We were going on fairly well for about ten minutes when we got stuck in a large shell hole. The ambulance is now on an angle of 45 degrees and I thought we would upset any minute. Fritz is saying good-bye to me by dropping an occasional shell near the ambulance. The driver is doing his best to get us out, but it is too much for the horses. Every jerk goes through my leg like a knife, and my feelings are with the poor Lieut. Beside me, but I find that he is unconscious - a blessing in this rough sea.
In a few minutes some mules, loaded with ammunition, pass us. The mules are hitched to our ambulance and we are on our way again. In an hour and a half we arrive at cross roads, where we are transferred to motor ambulances, a relief for my leg after the rough cross country trip. A short run of 15 or 20 minutes, we arrive at dressing station, where my leg is washed. I am inoculated against lock-jaw and wooden splints put on the full length of my leg. My this time I am nearly frozen and I can tell you all truthfully that I have never been so cold in my life before.
In a very few minutes I am back in the motor ambulance. As I am being put in, I notice by aid of the stretcher bearer's lamp the following words on the outside of the ambulance:- "Presented by The Children of Nova Scotia, Canada." The Lieut. is still beside me. He was terribly wounded in the head. His batman has been travelling with us all the way, looking after his comfort as well as he could.
We start again and at 12.15, a little after midnight, arrive at 23 C.C.S. I am met by the doctor, who, after looking over my papers, which are tagged on me, asks me how I would like a nice warm bed and a hot drink. By this time I am so cold that I could hardly talk, my teeth are chattering and making an awful noise. A piece of stick is placed between my teeth, my clothes are ripped off me. I am rolled up in a blanket, then hot water bottles are places around me, lots of blankets over me, and a hot brandy makes me feel a little more comfortable.
It was three or four days afterwards before I really was warm.
Capt. McMullin, an English surgeon, told me I must be operated on first thing in the morning. My thoughts drifted back at this time to the day when I broke my arm, and Mother, who was so patient, fixing pillows around my arm. As I tried to sleep, my leg on each side was braced with sandbags against the splints, but my thoughts were with you all in Canada as I knew how worried you would all be. The night nurse took my pulse, 130, gave me something to make me sleep and I was soon in the Land of Nod.
I woke at four, had a cup of milk as I was still shivering. At 9.30 a.m. I was the first to be taken to the operating room, Nurse Hester fixing me up for the operation. I asked her if she would write a letter home and she very kindly consented to do so.
At about 11.30 the operation was over, as I found out afterwards, that is, after I wakened from ether. Capt. McMullin told me I must keep very quiet, that this operation was very successful, some bone and foreign matter being taken out of my leg.
I also had a compound fracture of femur, and my knee joint was split in two. My wound was stitched up and, to tell you the truth, I now felt fine. My leg was swollen to twice its normal size, but it did not bother me much. I had far too quick a pulse and, as I learned afterwards, my blood pressure was very bad. (The blood pressure was tested twice a day with a gauge and another instrument.)
I was not allowed to write but, when Sister Hester was off duty, managed to get a letter off to my good wife and Mother.
I made very good progress, thanks to the good care I received from Capt. McMullin and Sister Hester, although I suffered a good deal of pain in the 23 C.C.B. I shall never forget the kind manner in which I was treated by every one, from the orderlies to the Col.
On Tuesday, February 6th, the Col. Came to see me, personally, and told me he had got a cable off to the Red Cross (Canadian) about my condition. The wound being in the knee cap made it very dangerous, but he was glad to see me doing so well. Getting a cable off to you relieved my mind so much.
A poor fellow died in the next bed to me this morning. He was literally riddled with bullets; he was a Canadian from Toronto. Just before he died, he asked me the question "Am I reported wounded, dead or missing?" and then he just slept away.
At a C.C.S. a patient is hardly ever kept longer than two days. My case being a dangerous one, I was kept until Friday, Feb. 9th, when I left at 9 a.m. for Boulogne. The weather was exceedingly cold. My good friend, Capt. McMullin, was at the station to fix my leg so as it would not move about. The steam pipes had burst in the train, and the temperature was below zero. We were all supplied with hot soup and cocoa at intervals to keep us warm. A boy died in our car a few moments after leaving. It was a long, trying trip and I was very glad to reach Boulogne at 11 p.m.
Crowds were round the station and a French woman gave me a cigarette, as I was carried to the ambulance. Reached Canadian General Hospital at about 11.30 p.m.. Nigh Nurse in charge belongs to Sydney, C.B. Being tired, I was soon asleep, but not before a boy very near my bed passed away, and another report "Died of wounds" will be published in Canada. Day Nurse, a Miss Anderson, married a Doctor, who is in France with her, brother of Major Anderson, who married the little Baby Girl.
Wound dressed first thing this morning. I am at least beginning to feel warm again.
Left Boulogne at 8.30 a.m., Feb 12th, for England. About 1200 on board Red Cross ship, arrived at Dover about 3 p.m.; hustled into Red Cross Train, which was nice and warm, given a good bowl of soup, a package of tobacco, and was now enjoying my pipe. Train did not leave Dover until 7 p.m. and we arrived in Brighton at 1 o'clock in the morning, Feb. 13th. Was soon in a motor ambulance on my way to 2nd Eastern General Hospital and was glad to get to bed in a beautiful room. A photo which I have to show you will speak for itself re this room.
The night nurse met me with a smile, and right here I cannot say too much for the British women. They work long hours, nothing is a trouble for them, and work most of them without receiving a cent. Some of them work under trying circumstances. One girl who was looking after me, I was told, had just a week before been advised that the man she was to marry had been killed. Another her Father had been missing for months, and still another had a husband a prisoner of war. Still, to all appearances, they were happy, but one must guess and think otherwise. They work 12 hours a day, and smile nearly all the 12 hours.
A Mrs. Pollak, who has her husband in the Navy, has met the Red Cross wounded trains for the last two years at Brighton, handing out stamped post cards and cigarettes to the boys. I must say that I admire the pluck of these English women; their spirit is one that cannot be broken. In Canada it is hard to realize what this war is.
Why don't the boys enlist? I see by the Canadian papers that recruiting has fallen off. We need men. What is death on the battlefield compared with what the poor French and English women in Belgium, also the Belgians themselves, had to put up with? Do the slackers on St. Catherine Street realize that their Mothers, wives, sweethearts and sisters, would be in danger if it were not for these Englishwomen who say to their husbands, sons and brothers, "Enlist to save the laws of humanity and right." When we left for France, in July, little did I think that I was one of the few in our battery to pull through, but that has been the case. It takes a few months to make a soldier, but only a few minutes to knock him out.
I have just heard that our battery has again had a little scrap, Sergts. Whittick and Knox, also Pte. Welch and Wilson are dead. Curtis, James, McGee, Ryan and Wainwright are wounded. None of the boys, hardly, who first joined the battery, are left.
I hope that this letter will give you a little idea of a wounded soldier's trip from the trenches to England on a stretcher.
Before I close I must truthfully say, as I have always said before, I am glad I came here, and, should I have to go back in time to France, as it will take a very long time before I am able to walk, I will go back again to do my utmost to put down, or help in a small way to put down, that very terrible and disgraceful motto of Germany - "Might is Right."
You at home, that is, the women and children of our fair Canada, have suffered more than any soldier who has ever been to the front, and I think that my Good Wife and Mother are to be admired for the fight they have made against anxiety, which is worse than any Hun shelling.
Well, I must say "Good-night" with love to you all, and hoping to see you all soon, but getting to Canada I find a very slow business.
All through my dangers I left myself to God's Will and he was good to me.
Kisses to my dear little son, and I trust that, when he becomes a man, war will be a thing impossible to happen.
The last I heard of wounded Lieut. referred to above was that he would recover.