Letter from Norman McIntosh - Thrilling experience Related
France May 19, 1915
Just a few lines to let you know that I am still in good health and doing my little part. We are certainly seeing a lot of country over here - now we are back in France, back from Belgium resting up for a couple of days, but expect to leave to-night for the firing line. We moved here a couple of days ago, and I passed through some fine cities on our way, but many of the churches and other buildings are destroyed, or partly so by the German shell fire.
I suppose you have seen by the papers of the battles that have taken place, and the credit the Canadians have earned for themselves. Well, they deserve every bit of it and more too, considering the losses through wounded and death that they have had, and quite a lot from my own home town. Cobourg and Northumberland certainly have contributed their portion. In my last letter I told you of the number wounded and killed. Well, another poor fellow has died of wounds since. I cannot mention his name, but he used to work at Mr. Greer's Livery stable, driving the baggage wagon. He went to Cobourg four years ago from Scotland. (Bert Munn is probably the man referred to by the writer, as he was reported dead a few weeks ago). Also a Major from Cobourg, in the infantry is killed (Probably Major Bolster). The losses have certainly been great. Roy Crosgrey and Frank Love are still very much alive also Chum Markle. The way these chaps are going whistling around would almost make you think there was no danger at all.
In that big battle about a week ago, our gunners were with their guns under terrific fire. We drivers had just finished cleaning our horses when the Germans started to shell us. We got orders to harness up quickly and be ready to move out. I was standing at the head of my team when all of a sudden there was a terrific explosion right beside me and the other chaps with me. Each flew in clouds in every direction and a moment later when the dust smoke cleared away, there lay a horse with head and shoulders blown off not ten feet away from me. It was a terrible moment and if I felt serious in all my life, it was then. I thanked God right then and there that I was spared. One poor fellow from Port Hope, and I know him well, was limping away. He yelled to me, 'Mac, I'm hit,' He was afraid to look to see where he was struck. However there were only two little bits of shrapnel shell in him - one in his leg and one in his back, and you should have seen the glad look on his face when he found that that was all it was. He looked as though he could do an Indian war dance. Well, it was just an act of Province that the contents of that 80 pound shell went the opposite way to where unwe were standing. You may judge how close we were - close enough to be comfortable, believe me. It lifted my hat right off my head (not from fright like you see in the funny papers) but the wind of it passing. We don't have time to be frightened when those big shells pay us a visit. Now, there is a funny thing about them. When they are a distance away you can hear them whistling plainly, no need to be afraid then; but when they are real close you can't hear them at all, and then you haven't any time to be afraid. It was found later, that that same shell that blew our horse to pieces, went over to another section and cut a jugular vein in another horse. We had to shoot the horse as he was bleeding to death. But we got off lucky with our horses, for only five minutes later another shell burst in the same field and killed seven French horses stone dead. Now what do you think of that for one shell? The shells the Germans are destroying cities with, I am told, weigh one ton. They knock big buildings right down, and it is nothing to see four or five big buildings burning at one time. Towns and cities that were full of life when we first came here are now vacated, houses and shops are all locked up and people moved away. Here and there is a building half destroyed - often churches. I have seen hundreds of instances like this. It will take years and years after the war is over to build up those towns and cities.
Well, when you have received this letter the 24th of May will have passed, and that date reminds me of the times I used to have shooting off fire crackers - but we see all the fireworks we want right here - only on a larger scale, and a trifle more exciting, If I ever get back to Cobourg again, I will make people tired listening to what I have got to tell, for believe me, I have seen some funny sights since I came abroad. War is awful - it is nothing short of hell on earth.
Well, I must close now as it is nearly five o'clock p.m. here. The boys are all around the cook house to get their never changing bread, cheese, jam and tea in small quantities - something on the style of the ladies' five o'clock tea, a little bit of everything. Five o'clock here would be 12 noon in Canada, so I guess you people over there are also going to your 'cook house' now. Oh for some of those little red radishes and green onions. Well good-bye for now.