Nov. 16, 1918
For the first time since coming to France I can put my address at the head of my letter for now with the armistice in force the censorship has been cut down and we are allowed to tell where we are and what is going on around us. As you will see by the heading we are in the village of Thulin a little town about midway between Valenciennes and Mons just off the main road. It is the position we were in at the cessation of hostilities and we are standing by here awaiting orders. We are right beside the station and I am billeted at the Cafï¿½ de la Gare or Station Hotel. The people who run it our extremely kind and we are enjoying our time. Maj. McNevin and I are side-kicks. We had a good bed and are quite comfortable in every way, quite a change from the old life. Have been having it pretty easy for the last few days. Do physical exercise for half an hour each morning and sometimes a little foot drill during the day. Besides this we have the exchange to mann. I am on duty tonight till one o'clock and am sitting by the kitchen fire in our billets where we have the exchange. Quite a comfortable place to do duty. Everyone else is in bed and the house is dead still. It is a perfect night, clear as a bell with the full moon looking down on a scene of peace and quiet rather than turmoil and noise of the last four years. It reminds me much of the Canadian autumn evening, for there is a sharp tinge to the air which makes a fire or a great coat feel good.
Tomorrow morning I am going to Mons, that town whose name has been made familiar with the world over by the war. There is to be a day of Thanksgiving service there for the Canadian corps at which some fifteen hundred representatives of the different units will be present. Our battery is sending fifteen of whom Alison Tait, Albert Dennis and I represent the sigs. Will write and tell you about it again for methinks it will be a memorable day for us. In fact our visiting Mons is in itself something well worth while.
Now I must tell you something of what we have been doing. On the evening of Sept. 26 we moved into a position near Inchy for the attack on Canal du Nord. From this position we opened up our barrage at 5:20 a.m. and believe me it was some barrage. We were in a position on a hill from which we could see the whole thing and it was a grand sight. We were only a few hundred yards from the front line and with the coming of daylight we could see our troops advancing steadily behind our barrage, up the hill toward Bourbon Wood and beyond. We were on the side of one of the main roads and soon the wounded and prisoners began streaming in. It was a great day. Things were going good for us, and everyone was happy. About noon we pulled the guns and moved forward across the Canal to the Plaine de Mallekoff Station on the Arras - Cambrai road. That evening two of our sigs were hit and one of them, Tom Martin, from Ottawa, a particular friend of mine and a splendid chap, went west on the 30th. The other chap is well away in Blighty. Stayed in this position till the 30th then moved to Haynecourt near Cambrai in which position we stayed on till the 10th, the day after Cambrai was a taken. From Haynecourt we went to Blecourt across the Douai-Cambrai road. From here we went to Abancourt Hem Langlet and on the 19th to Marquette where we met the first civilians. There were not a great many left here by the Boche but from Denain, quite a large town nearby, they kept straggling in all day. The next morning we went to Escaudin where we have our first billet with the civies. As soon the lines were laid our sergeant and I went around to look for them and as we went along the street the old peasant women were standing in their doors, with the tricolor waving from the upstairs windows, ready and waiting to invite us in. I picked out a nice little place for Tait and I and here for the first time in our experience we slept between white sheets in the battery position with the battery in action. And the people couldn't do enough for us. Every time we came in they had hot coffee or cocoa for us. At supper-time they invited us to join them in their meal which consisted of vegetables or rather stew, potatoes and the black bread supplied by the American relief.
I had received a parcel from you that day containing chicken and butter. We had some bread left over from tea and made toast and shared all round. Had a very enjoyable meal and believe me they certainly enjoyed the chicken and the white bread toasted with a good old Canadian butter. Then we left next morning. I left half the butter with them and they asked me to thank you for it. We each gave them five francs when we were leaving. They didn't want to take anything but we left it on the table and walked out. They certainly needed it more than us and it was well worth twice that amount to us to enjoy for an evening the comforts of a home. From Escaudin we went to Bellaing and next day to Raismes. (pronounced Rem) quite a large town about three kilometers from Valenciennes, where we stayed for several days.
I told you in one of my other letters about a shelling in a cellar with a bunch of civilians. That was on our second day in this town. Another little experience which I did not mention before happened a couple of nights before we left. The civvies with whom we were billeted belonged to a different part of the town and had moved out about three days after we came to their own home leaving the house to the four of us - Tait, McNevin, a Brooks chap from Montreal and myself. There were four downstairs rooms in the house with a hall running through the center. McNevin and I slept in the front room on the right. Behind it was another room, vacant, where we had our spare kits, across the hall was the kitchen and behind it a room where the other two fellows slept. In our room was a nice open grate and when off duty we used to sit around it. On this particular night we had just had our supper and finished washing the dishes. We were all off-duty for a couple of hours and were sitting around the fire when Fritz dropped a shell a couple of hundred yards away. I don't know why we did it for it was not unusual and as a rule we never paid any attention to shells so far away but we all went to the door to see where it landed, and instead of going back into the room with the fire one of the fellows led the way out to the room behind it. And a funny part of it was that everyone had a hunch that we should go there. It was one of those hunches which some call luck others Providence but whatever it was it was the means of saving our lives for no sooner were we in the door than there was a roar which we knew meant a close one, a crash, the candle went out. For a couple of seconds the sound of falling brick and then a suffocating cloud of dust and smoke. For a few seconds no one spoke, then I found my voice enough to ask "anyone hurt" and believe me it was some relief to hear the answer "no". Then I lighted the candle which I had been holding and started out to see just what had happened. So thick was the dust that I could not see the pile of bricks which littered the hall and fell over them and Tait came down on top of me. I lit the candle again and by this time the dust had settled sufficiently to see that the shell had come into our room. Pete's bed and the table and a couple of chairs had disappeared entirely, My blankets were thrown in a bundle on one corner of the bed, the stove was smashed and everything broken up generally. Fortunately most of our kit was in the other room and we didn't lose anything of value. It was certainly a lucky escape and I mention it to show by what means a fellow is often saved. It was one of my closest shaves, although I think there were one or two others which can beat it. But often acting upon such a hunch we have moved out of a place when we were a couple of hundred yards away or perhaps less. Needless to say we didn't sleep in that house that night. It was rather drafty and we were a bit "wind" ourselves.
After the capture of Valenciennes we went from Raismes to St. Saulve then to Onnaing and then to Quiverchain and on the 9th the we crossed the Belgian frontier and came into position in Thulin. This is a rough outline of our share in the great concluding battle of the war - the battle of Cambrai. During our time in France and Belgium we have taken part in four great battles: the Somme in '16, Vimy in '17, Passchendaele in '17 and in '18 the greatest battle of the war which has come as a fitting climax to them all.
Well my shift is up so I think I will say goodnight. All is well. I am OK as usual.
Love to all, Harold