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Date: December 14th 1916
To
Miss Lola
From
Arthur Turner
Letter

France Dec 14/16 Dear Miss Lola, Many thanks for you letter and for the return of the photos, both of which I received yesterday on arrival at our present billets. I was delighted at getting another letter so soon. I am sorry that you have been ill but hope you are quite well again now. Apart from your disappointment at not being able to see your two friends the other night this is certainly no time for you to parade sick when the M.A.A.A is almost due to open. I wish I could get over for a Saturday afternoon or Band Night. You once told me that "Variety is the spice of life" and we have certainly enjoyed it since we left our camp at Witley. We arrived in France in the wee small hours of the morning Thursday December 7th but did not land until 8am. I wrote you a letter on my way to our present abode but do not remember how much I told you so please excuse the repetition. Our port of disembarkation is a fine city and like most old French towns contains some beautiful old churches and other mediaeval buildings. We were marched four or five miles to a camp where the first drafts from the 148th were still in training so we had the pleasure of meeting old friends. However our stay there was very short. We left the following night leaving the first draft to finish their training there. We were all very glad to get away from the place if only on account of the nature of the ground. There is plenty of mud where we are now but then we have not the same slope on the ground and we are not in tents. The camp we left behind so cheerfully is situated on a steep hillside composed of stiff clay which is terribly slippery and covered with mud which takes you up to your ankles except in the high spots. If you are going down hill you have to turn your toes in to check yourself and if you wish to turn quickly the only thing to do is to cross your outside foot over the inner as in skating. The men are quartered in tents (14 or 16 in a bell tent and believe me there is no room to spare. We thought ourselves crowded at Valcartier when we had 8 in the same sized tents. However it adds to the warmth). Everyone takes in a good piece of real estate on each boot every time he goes into the tent and blankets clothes & equipment soon get well coated with clay and mud. The blankets are in this state anyway when you get them from the previous owners. There are about 10,000 men in the camp and they are all fed from four cookhouses. They parade in two single files to each cookhouse so there are about 1000 men in each qeue. It takes about two hours to feed the outfit although some eat outside. Consequently Reveille is at 4-30am. There is one Y.M.CA and one Dry Canteen. In the Y.M.CA you have to buy tickets before purchasing goods and there is a line up which stretches backwards and forwards across one end of the gymnasium about four times for this purpose. When you have your tickets you line up again to buy a cup of tea and there is a line which goes around three sides of the Y.M.CA (2 long and a short) and sometimes longer. If you want cigarettes or anything else you line up again and there is a line which winds up and down the Y.M.CA a couple of times inside the tea line. By the time you have a done all this, and often before, it is time to retire. This lining up business is the main feature of the camp excepting the mud. It is really a joke if you are not staying too long. It reaches a climax in the case of the cookhouses. The two lines to each cookhouse are not parallel nor do they proceed from the same place. All the cookhouse doors are close together and the eight lines of 1000 men each start from different places and wind up and down that slippery hillside around each other in the most complicated way imagineable. I suppose no one could tell how the lines came to take their present shape but I believe they always line up the same way. If you are not an old stager and happen to arrive late it is a regular Chineese puzzle to find the end of a line. You file in to the messroom, take a seat (if possible), swallow down your rations, and get out at the far end. The messrooms are a fair size and nearly capable of providing everyone with a seat unless the rations are unusually hard to deal with. I believe the training school is one of the best, the training being based on the latest experience from the front and the equipment being very elaborate. The mere effort of walking on that clay in marching order or without is worth something in the way of training. I fell three times whilst there and once it was really serious. I had a cake in each hand (newly purchased at the Y.M.CA with much trouble) but by falling on my elbows in the thick mud I managed to save them both. (I mean the cakes) We were issued with the web equipment before leaving Witley. It is much more comfortable than the leather equipment we had in Canada and the pack is larger so that you can carry all your things along with you and dispense with the kit bag. We stayed one night at the Training Camp and were issued with some more equipment before leaving - gas helmets, steel helmets, Lee Enfield Rifles and Bayonets and a few other things. With what we had already we were fairly well loaded up. Most of the truck hangs around you somewhere, on your belt or neck so that by the time you are attired in Full Marching Order, you resemble a walking Christmas Tree - reminds me of the White Knight in "Through the Looking Glass" with his mousetrap and beehive and other truck dangling from his saddle. However all the things we carry are for a purpose and necessary to our welfare. We left this Camp on Friday night and entrained in Cattle trucks. The next day we got out of the train at a fine city, ate our iron rations (hard tack and bully beef) at the station and marched to a Rest Camp from which I wrote You. It was raining and there was very little cover so most of us dumped our kits in the thick mud and took life easy. We entrained after dinner. This time there were 34 of us in a small cattle car. We slept sardine fashion, each man having his feet and legs tightly wedged between the two men opposite so that although we had no blankets we kept quite warm. The next day Sunday we traveled in the train all day and had lots of fun. We were issued with any amount of hard tack, bully beef and jam and also tea & sugar. Every time the train stopped we made a dash for our engine and any other engines in the immediate vicinity for hot water. We also got two old ration tins punched holes in them with a bayonet, swiped coal and wood and made fires in them. Unfortunately we had no flues and the smoke nearly choked us especially when the fires were starting up. In fact we had to throw one out but not before I had boiled some water on it and made some excellent tea. (The water from the engines was not as hot as it might have been) On Sunday night we arrived within a few miles of the firing line, detrained and marched to billets. The place is a little mining village within about 3 miles of the front line trenches. On our way up to the billets there was quite a bombardment going on and we could see the flash and hear the report of the big guns quite well. We also saw the effect of the shell fire on the buildings as we passed by for the firing line was once nearer these billets than it is now. Our billets were inhabited by refugees for the most part. The surrounding land is mostly clay so the place is not without mud. There were 12 of us in our billet. We had an upstairs room & slept on the floor. The other occupants of the house were a man and his wife and daughter aged 16. I enjoyed my stay there very much and improved my knowledge of French considerably. I spent most of my spare time downstairs talking to the people and took coffee with them at their invitation the first night. I learnt that they were French refugees whose home is on the present firing line and that eight out of the remaining nine houses on our side of the street were also occupied by refugees. The people next door to us were Belgians. My hosts have a little boy aged 12 who is about 12 miles further back from the firing line staying with his aunt and grandmother whilst attending school. The people could not speak any English so conversation was slow but I learnt quite a little about them and also about the surrounding country and people. This aunt mentioned above is a sister of the man I stayed with. Their houses were close together and the little girl at our billets was visiting her aunt when the Germans bombarded the place. She was talking to her cousin (a little boy about 11 years old) in the doorway of the house when a shell struck off the boy's legs and killed him instantly. The girl was unhurt. Whilst parading in the street the morning after our arrival we had the pleasure of seeing two German areoplanes come over the British lines. The British opened fire on them and the shells burst pretty close to them. They were just like stars when they burst then slowly dispersed until they ressembled little white clouds. They fired a lot of shots but did not manage to hit them. They also fired some bigger shells at them which burst with a cloud of black smoke. One piece of shrapnell fell on the roof of the house opposite to us and the lady picked it up and took it inside. The British planes went after them in the end and chased them back. We also heard a lot of machine guns that morning. On Tuesday last we left our billets and marched a couple of miles to this place. We are now quartered in a convent with some other regiments. We are in a kind of garret just under the roof. The convent was in pretty bad shape when we arrived but they keep making improvements and we have been very comfortable from the first - much better off than the first draft down at that Training Camp in tents. Many of the windows of the convent have been broken with shells & are gradually being boarded up. It makes the place rather dark but is better than the cold. The bannister was broken off the staircase when first we arrived but the pioneers put up another yesterday. It was pretty awkward coming up in absolute darkness the first two or three nights and making the turns especially if you happened to pass someone. Dec 17/16 There are only a few skylights in our room about the size of a sheet of writing paper so we have to use candles day & night. These we stick in the floor walls steel helmets or anywhere convenient. We got some stoves in the day before yesterday so the place is getting just like home. We are to undergo three or four weeks training here I believe before going into the trenches. The day before yesterday we entered a hut with our gas masks and respirators on whilst the weeping gas as used by the Germans was turned on. You could not tell that there was any gas in the hut at all but as we came out we removed our masks and the gas coming out of the doorway made us all weep copiously & our eyes hurt slightly for an hour or two afterwards. I guess it could not take long to blind you if you eyes were not protected. Yesterday morning a German areoplane tried to come over but was driven back by the British shells. It was a great sight. We saw eight British Battle Planes flying afterwards. Aeroplanes are a very common sight here. My present address is Pte A.L.T. #841715, 24th Canadian Battalion, B.E.F., France. Part of the first draft from the 148th is to reinforce the 24th also. They finished their training near our port of arrival in France on that slippery hillside I have said so much about. They arrived near here last night and are quartered between the convent and the Y.M.C.A. where I am writing. I saw some of them on my way here. They expect to go into the trenches tomorrow so they have got ahead of us. Do you remember a friend of mine called George Clarke. He is from Jamaica and was with us when we went through DB. Co Shell shops with Mr. H.M. White one night. He is in the Artillery. His brother Tom is in the 24th but I have not been able to see him. George was at Liverpool University with me and Tom graduated at the same time as Professor Brown of McGill whom we visited together when Tom was in Montreal. The 24th HQ are near the billets we left last Tuesday and I meant to go and see Tom last Monday night but learnt from a friend of his, driving a water waggon, just as I was setting out, that his company had gone into the trenches that morning so it was no use going. I shall probably have to wait now until I have finished my training here. I do not have so much time for writing now as we do not have Saturday afternoon & Sunday free. Kind regards to all. Yours very sincerely, Arthur Turner P.S. Please write again soon.

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