Interesting letter from Lt-Col. Beattie. Rev. H.R. Home
has received following interesting letter from Lieut-Col. Wm. Beattie, C.M.G.:
My Dear Mr. Horne:
It is a long time since I wrote to you and longer since I have heard from you. Things have moved a pace since then and as you doubtless know from the press, we are in the greatest of world battles. We have already done our turn of one week and are now some fifteen miles back resting and getting reinforced up to strength. Just now, a Battalion, or what is left of one, is calling the roll on the opposite side of the street from where I write. As a man's name is called, he takes a few paces forward. I have been watching the proceedings. It is pathetic to hear sometimes three or four names in a group called with no response. The fact that these names are on roll together shows that they were in the same platoon, probably chums who lived together, fought 'to-gether, and died to-gether.
Our casualties were, however, not considered out of proportion to our successes. They were rather considered slight compared with the work done.
I had some views of the battle field and wish I were at liberty to write freely of what I saw. I knew the attack was timed for 6:30 a.m. I got up at 3:00 a.m. after sleeping an hour, dressed and walked out to a famous spot, where one of my Chaplains had a dugout in a shell hole. Here at the assembly post for wounded, just back from the field, he served hot tea, coffee, Bovril, etc. to them while they waited for the ambulance. At this point which is now far up beyond the original German front line I waited the dawn. Sharp on the stroke of 6:30, the heavens were illuminated with the lash of many hundreds of guns. A river of steel flowed over our heads, tearing the air with a hellish noise. I was cold and shivery anyway, but when this firing had been going three or four minutes, I shook from head to foot. Every bit of flesh seemed to quiver with excitement, not with fear. There was little to fear for in such a bombardment, the enemy pays little attention to anything but our front line. But, oh, the excitement of it all. How brutalizing too is war! I found myself saying, 'Go to it, this is the day they have been waiting for forty years, let them have it now.' I must confess it was no small satisfaction to those of us who for twelve months had been compelled to sit tight in the Ypres salient and endure the bombardment of guns from three sides; to feel at last we had over- whelming superiority in artillery. In the air, too, we were greatly supported. One day the Bosch had up two balloons in the morning and none in the afternoon, while we had over a score. Our aeroplane had complete command of the air. When a Hun plane ventured out he was lucky if he got back. This activity saved many lives as the German artillery must fire blindly. I watched four Battalions going up to the attack, bayonets fixed and shining in the sun. In four long waves almost 300 yards apart they went. It was a bit of old fashioned warfare which suited this rolling ground. The field was pock- marked with tens of thousands of shell holes and the air filled with clouds from iron enemy shells. At one time two or three big 'crumps' fell on one of the thin, long advancing lines tearing big holes in it. The line advanced with not more than a moment's wavering. What splendid fellows there - mechanics, farmer, clerk, soldiers. And with what fine results they fought that day! They advanced many hundreds of yards, captured a strong fortified factory, and important and strongly fortified village, also several hundred prisoners. It was an optimistic feeling that the sight of so many prisoners created. We had never had the chance to take more than little bunches. This wholesale capture thrilled our men who went about wearing German helmets and showing other trophies of war with great pride. This minute an orderly arrived in my office bringing the order of the day to which is attached a telegram from Sir Douglas Haig, saying 'The capture of your troops of (here he mentions a village) a fortified factory and a farm (the name of which I may not repeat) besides several miles of enemy trenches during the last three days is a fine performance, of which all ranks may well be proud. I congratulate you all warmly."
I have been several times interrupted in this, and the writing of this much has covered twenty-four hours. I began it yesterday. I have been twice called out by Division H.Q. and sent some miles on certain enquiries. I am afraid this letter is disjointed because of these interruptions.
I must bring this to a close. I hope things are shaping well for a good winter's work at Cobourg.
Give every expression of affectionate regard to all my people of St. Andrew's and all other friends.
Wm. Beattie, Lieut. Col.
22, 9, 1916 - 2nd Canadian Division.