Search The Archive

Search form

Collection Search
Date: April 29th 1917
To
Miss Lola
From
Arthur
Letter

Lord Derby War Hospital Warrington England April 29/17 Dear Miss Lola, You will be thinking that I have forgotten you altogether but that is far from the case. I cannot understand quite how it has happened but I seem to have neglected all my correspondence for the last two months except for my weekly letter home. Also I have not received any Canadian mail since about two weeks before I left the Bn. which happened about five weeks ago. I think I had better explain first my presence back in Blighty & then go back and fill up the gap. I am sick not wounded - nephritis. About six weeks ago I had the misfortune? to lose some skin from my shins I am not sure how. The hurt was trivial and I ignored it for a week or more. However when on a working party up the line one day my right leg began to pain considerably so I took a look at it. Whilst so engaged the Corpl chanced to pass and got quite excited - told me if I did not report to the M.O. as soon as we got back - not to wait till the morning there would be trouble for me. I reported but was on duty again next day after having both legs dressed. We were sent up to the Front Line carrying 60lb trench mortars. We had 6 miles to walk first up to the Reserves and then collected the Trench Mortar Shells - one each 60lbs & started off. The guide lost us twice and we carried the things for 3 ½ hours, exploring nearly every part of the front line for quite an area. We had to walk along trenches up to our knees in mud in places and also go over some very rough ground. Naturally my legs were much worse in the morning & I was put on Light Duty. The next two days I was excused all duty and advised to lie down. The next day I was sent on a Brigade Working Part at 6am. There were 3 of us from each Company and a sergt (13 men altogether) whilst the rest of the Battalion was sent back for 10 days training to get ready for the recent big push. It was a permanent job and a rather good one I believe. We were situated in the Reserve Line, about a mile behind the Front Line. We had to walk about 6 miles from our old billets down a trench which was very wet and muddy in places. When we reached our destination we were quartered in a big cave of which I propose to give some description as our Line has moved now and anyway the line is only typical of many other parts. The cave is about 80 feet deep & lit by electricity. There were about four hundred men there when we arrived and I believe the cave will hold six hundred or more. I believe 600 Frenchmen were gassed in it in the early part of the war. Our first job was clearing part of this wonderful cave and putting up some more bunks. The greater part of the cave was fitted with bunks when we arrived. There were wooden frames covered with chicken wire to make kind of spring mattresses. They were usually 3 tiers high. The cave is quite old and rumour hath it that the white chalkstone removed from it was used to build the neighbouring town. The town is in ruins just shattered walls standing here and there. Many of the cellars are provided with bunks and used largely by the troops in the reserve line. Of course when the bunks were all finished we should probably have been sent out on digging parties etc. The main attraction of the job was that we were on these shifts & so had 8hrs work & plenty of time to sleep also plenty to eat & a chance to dry wet clothes etc. Much better than standing to all night in the trenches wet through up to the knees sometimes, sleeping in wet things & frequently working most of the day too. Well I worked the first night but when I reported at the nearest advanced dressing station the following afternoon to have my legs dressed which I was supposed to do daily I was told not to work any more & the next day was sent by ambulance to the nearest field hospital. From there I was sent to the Corps Rest Station - spent a very pleasant week there - sent to C Clearing Station for a night and then to the Base. Whilst at the Base, where I spent 10 days or so, I was bothered with pains in the back & head. I should not have worried about this much if I had not been troubled with the same thing to a greater degree in the trenches. There were one or two days there when it took me all my time to walk to my post at the craters at night carrying my 120 rounds of ammunition & not even a haversack which you are supposed to take. My back was so weak I could scarcely stand up. Naturally I thought it good opportunity of having the matter investigated so reported to the doctor. I was found to have nephrites & ordered to England where I have been for just over two weeks. On arrival in England we were hustled into trains bound for various parts of the country without regard to our wishes and we were in complete ignorance as to our various destinations. I was lucky enough to get here & so am only about twenty miles from home. Father has been to see me three times already and my sister Evelyn once also, so I am having a good time. For the first ten days or so the people here doctored my legs and let the other matter wait. I could not help being amused at the doctor here. He would have it that the four septic sores on my leg were the result of shrapnel wounds and I had some difficulty persuading him that he was mistaken. He kept reiterating "Are you quite sure you were not wounded" in such an appealing tone of voice and looked so doubtful, perplexed & disappointed at my answers that it took all my moral strength to adhere to the truth. A week ago yesterday the people here transferred me to a medical ward and treated me as a nephritis Case. I was sent to bed between blankets and put on milk diet - nothing to eat at all. It is somewhat of a come down from walking about going out afternoons and being on ordinary diet. The cure seems to consist in sweating and starvation. I expect to be in bed several weeks - about six at least - a pleasant prospect for one whose record stay in bed since infancy was a day and half with measles about ten years ago! However when I get out of hospital I shall be in convalescent camp in England and then have ten days leave home so it is worth it. Well! I feel anything but a hero. Nearly fourteen months in the army and only four in France only two in the Line. My experiences are very small as I have never even been over the bags on a raid & Fritz never paid us a visit whilst I was there either. In our part of the line we had some craters to hold which were manned at night. The trenches leading to them were too shallow to use in daylight. I have been sniped at a few times on my way to these craters in the early evenings & on my way back in the mornings - also we have been rather badly shelled a few times on working parties & one night on flying sentry Fritz sent a lot of "fishtails" and grenades into the trench I was patrolling. However my back ached so much that night that I had no interest left for Fritz. I could not walk from one end of the trench to the other without a rest. We had an exciting few minutes on our way out of the trenches the first time. In the ruined city I told you of there are numbers of wells. Some of these are partly choked with debris - others are cleaned out and in use. It was a very dark night and our platoon got rather spread out. One boy called Lowe stepped into a well. Fortunately for him there was a lot of debris jammed in the mouth of it. He landed on his breast in a swimming attitude right on an old spring bed which was amongst the rubbish. He was about 8 feet down. Fortunately he had the sense to keep perfectly still. The slightest movement on his part would probably have taken him and all the rest of the truck down to the bottom - a matter of a hundred feet or so. After a while the Platoon Commander was brought back with his flashlight and they stood and discussed very coolly how to get him out. It was suggested by one that if they tackled the problem from one side the bed would probably tilt endways down to the bottom 100 feet at least which must have been pleasant hearing for the subject of all the excitement. They got him out in the end with the aid of rifles. When not in the trenches we were either in the cellars a mile behind - (Reserve Line) or brought back about six miles to a little village where we were in huts. There was quite a big camp there. When in the Reserve Line we could not go about much in the daylight as we were within view of Fritz. In fact he often started shelling when a few of us came up for a wash in a shell hole as was our custom and sometimes we left in a hurry. The little village where we went back for our rest (so called although we were on working parties most of the time) is a mass of ruins although most of the damage was done a long time ago in the Franco Prussian War. It was nevertheless well within range of shells and Fritz did a certain amount of damage from time to time. The nearest shell that ever I saw in that neighbourhood was when I was passing the place in the ambulance on the way to hospital. We were held up for a while by the congestion of the traffic - transports artillery etc when Fritz dropped a big High Explosive Shell in the woods on the left side of the road. It shook the ambulance considerably. This camp of ours was an inhospitable place when first we went there. It was not so large then. The Y.M.CA was poor & there were practically no canteens. As there was a ban on all the French stores & houses preventing them selling coffee or any kind of drink on account of an epidemic of mumps it was truly miserable. This ban was not removed but later the Y.M.CA improved wonderfully, the Salvation Army had a wonderful refreshment tent and the Church Army opened another. In addition there were all kinds of army canteens & the French stores seemed to get stocked with things. We could get almost anything but cooked stuff & bread. - All kinds of biscuits though. My brother is at Blackpool now. It is quite near here but as he is in charge of 62 men will be unable to get off to see me. He is expecting to leave for France soon and is under orders to move on four hours notice. You remember me speaking of my friends Innes & Murray Hutchison both of whom attained the rank of Captain & gave their lives in service soon after Murray was decorated with the M.C too: The third son Jim who was a Corpl when I went to France just got his Commission in the London Rifles. He is only 19 years old. I have not had any Canadian news for about two months. You see I had had none for about three weeks before leaving the Battalion & that is about five weeks ago. I have probably lost some of my mail through the German submarines but hope you will get this letter. How is Percy getting on? If he has not left Canada yet I am afraid it will be an anxious time for you all when he does if this submarine business does not improve. I hope you had a good skating season and managed to get some tobogganing this winter. I suppose you are counting the days now to the time of your departure for the Lake. Do you get any canoing out at St. Lambert? According to Evelyn Snyder there is plenty of swimming so I suppose you will. I have done quite a little reading since living in hospitals so much. Whilst at the Corps Rest Station I read two essays of an excellent book by Henry James entitled "The Will to believe & other essays in popular philosophy. If Mr. Radley does not know the book I think he would like it. It is most interesting. Kindest regards to all Yours very sincerely Arthur. P.S. Please excuse writing which I fear is even worse than usual. I am not allowed to sit up and find it awkward writing in a lying position. A. P.S.S. Please use my home address 13 Mount Pleasant Liverpool. May be moved to another hospital - Arthur -

Original Scans

Original Scans