Received your letter and photo and as regards the latter you are quite right in prophesying that I should not recognise you. The photo was of a total stranger to me and, if you wi11 excuse plain talk, it seems to be the likeness of a good looking young lad. If you look like your photo, don't join the army for it is a great destroyer of beauty. See what it did for me. Once I was young and handsome and laid claim to an intelligence which permitted me to hold intercourse with beings fashioned just a little lower than the angels. I was almost human in my actions and tastes. I was said by some to possess a "temperament" (whatever that may be). I claimed a 1ittle originality and considered myself someone. I washed twice or three times a day. And wore clothes which might have been said to fit -- but behold me now -- I am become a portion of Canada's gift to the Empire. I am a full private in the army -My number is 12606 and on parade the sergt. says "Number 4 correct that slope!!" What the H--- do you mean tryin' to wear your rifle like a necktie!"
I have not even a name. How have the mighty fallen! In England there was nothing to write about. Since I struck France, so much has happened that I don't know where to begin to tell you. However, if I begin at the beginning and carry on until dark we may be able to get part of it out of our system. I left England on lst. March and after a rough passage landed 1n France. I was not seasick crossing the Channel, though in order to keep from being so I was forced to stay on deck and was drenched with salt water from head to foot. Many a more experienced traveller than I gave way to the roll of the old tub and rushed frantically to the railing and took very little interest in the subsequent rolling of the ship. On arrival at _______ we marched steadily up hill carrying sixty or eighty pounds of harness and pack and after an hour or two pulled out, packed like sardines in motor lorries for an eighteen mi1e trip to the Canadian Base. Here we had supper and sleep, a bath and medical inspection, received 120 round of ammunition and a few other small issues, increasing our carrying weight by about 20 lbs. With the extra weight we left there by train in ordinary small box cars and travelled for about 3 hours, when we arrived at a small French town, where we stood knee deep in mud for a few hours making a dinner on the celebrated Mulligan and hard tack, after which we were conducted to some French army huts for the night. The following day we marched what was said to be the short distance up to the 5th Batt. This short distance was covered in the amazing short space of eight hours and we arrived in an absolutely fagged out condition. We found the battalion and had supper and another sleep. Next day after medical inspection, and pay parade and a few minor inspections, we marched from billets to the trenches. Here we had our first glimpse of the far famed blood-stained battle fields of France.
Of course, the villages through which we passed showed signs of battle, but on our way to reserve trenches we passed through Loos, which is completely ruined. You cannot imagine the devastation. Not one house remains standing and the roads and all the country around are pock-marked with shell holes. We were five days in reserve during which we did nothing but gas guard at the entrance to our dugout. This dugout was one in to lines of trenches captured from the Germans last August and was of remarkable dimensions, construction and comfort. There were two exits but one had been partly destroyed by a shell. It was under ground about 30 feet and consisted of 3 compartments each with sleeping accommodation for about 24 men. The soil was chalky and the walls of the dugout were solid masses of chalk. The place was already occupied by numerous mice, rats and vermin but as "Canada's Gift" these things did not annoy me in the least. The only time we had any excitement of note was on our last day when we were leaving for the support trenches -our second line- Fritzie Spotted a party of the_______who were taking our place and when we came up for our move, he opened up with his artillery and drove us all down again. However, we got away alright and arrived in our now line without difficulty or loss. I might mention that while in reserve, we were on daily eight hour shifts, tunneling a new entrance to a dugout and I did more work with a shovel than I ever did before. It was back breaking work and carried on in our second line trenches, which Fritzie would drop a shell into every now and then to keep in practice. He also swept the parapet with machine gun at intervals and sent over an odd gas shell. However, he did not get any of us. In support trenches we carried bombs to the Front line and put some wire up and did all these things at night, sleeping in the daytime. On our third night in these trenches, we were warned to look out for trouble which would be started at 9 P.M. by our big guns -- in other words, we were putting up a barrage to cover a raiding party. I was chosen to go back to _______ for rations and we had to be in the line again before things commenced to happen. We left for ________at 7:30 and just as we were approaching the ration dump, Fritzie sent over a number of gas shells and followed them by high explosives right around our party. Of course we had to get into our gas masks and as there was no cover we kept right on walking through the fuss. Fortunately no one was hurt, though shells fell and exploded all around. I think I had a narrow escape as I heard a dud fall about 10 or 12 yards from me. What might have happened, no one knows. We got back to our line with the rations at 9 o'clock exactly and the big show was on. There was the signal in flares from the front line and shells started screaming overhead from both directions. We put over ten to Fritzie's one, but I went down into a dugout and let him shell his old head off, and did not come up until all was quiet an hour later. Next day all was quite quiet except for a few stray shells sent over by Fritzie into a pile of ruins near us where he suspected a trench mortar battery was concealed. A fragment of one of these shells, about an inch long and a quarter of an inch wide and deep, came slowly my way and took me a wallop just above the knee. The darn thing was not going fast enough to break the cloth of my trousers however, and I was robbed of a nice trip to hospital and my discharge from the bally army. That is commonly called deucedly hard luck out here. I have kept the fragment for a souvenir. Nothing unusual happened the balance of the week until the following Saturday when one of our fellows in the Front line got a nice little flesh wound in the forearm and I was sent up to take his place. I had no sooner been posted as flying sentry connecting two companies over a distance of about 130 yards, when Fritzie opened up a barrage to cover a raid of his own! In five seconds the air above was filled with screaming shells, flames of explosives and of flying shrapnel. There were two of us together on this flying sentry and we were joined by one from the other company and the three of us patrolled the beat through the row. Our business was to see that Fritz did not come across in our sector. He didn't. His raid failed because our barrage was stronger than his. Two of his men wandered into our trenches and remained as prisoners. He was right out of luck. I did not see them at all, but they were there. After his barrage was quietened and ours died down, the stillness was awful and the night passed slowly. For a while afterwards, I was posted out in a support or projecting trench, as listening post, and afterwards sent back to the flying sentry job till morning. The night dragged on so very slowly, and when morning came I was quite ready for my issue of rum breakfast and sleep. You will notice I openly mention the rum ration. It is true I have been brought up teetotal but that "nose cap" of rum in the line is the most welcome drink one ever enjoyed. It revives your spirits and assists your appetite and if one is not accustomed to it, it goes to one's head a bit and makes life in the front line rosy and bright. It is a common saying that on three issues of rum any man can go over and take the German front line all by himself. Many a D.C.M. has been won on an extra ration of rum. Every man in the line looks forward to the rum in the morning.
On the Sunday following. my company moved into the front line to relieve the company that had been there for six days. I was on the 7 P.M. to 7 A.M. shift, standing to with bayonet fixed two hours sentry and two hours looking out over the parapet at Fritzies line 200 yards away. For three uneventful nights I did this and on the fourth night the _________ relieved us. On the third night it rained a rotten drizzle all night and the chalky soil became white slop. I never imagined I could get into such a disgraceful state. I had not washed for five days. I had not shaved for ten. I was mud from head to foot, weary, tired and wet. When relieved, we did a march or about five miles and were billeted in a little French town. We were served with Mulligan which tasted like nectar from Olympus, and the hard bed on the floor was the most comfortable I had ever slept in. I had not had my clothes off for fifteen days and nights until then, and as a result of all these comparative discomforts ... over-slept next morning and missed my breakfast. Then we had a bath and change of clothes, shaved and cleaned up as much as possible during the day and really recognised ourselves as almost human beings. We are still out on rest, though Fritzie's planes occasionally bombard our billets or near them, we sleep with a sense of freedom and security to which we are entire strangers in the trenches. No more for this time - will recount further experiences later. As I cannot write all this in detail to Muriel, you might pass it on when the family has been sufficiently edified . Love to all and write soon. Write to Violet also and send me some eats. It is not permitted to send eats from England nowadays, so Vi can't send anything. Small contributions from some will be gratefully accepted. Anything in the line of fruit cake, cookies, doughnuts or similar confections will be welcome. Especially doughnuts. My mouth waters at the thought..