Search The Archive

Search form

Collection Search
Date: November 22nd 1918

Jemappes, Belgium,
Nov. 22, 1918

Dear Mother:

Sent you a letter on the 17th and am going to write again tonight. As you will see we have moved again and are in Jemappes, a town just outside of Mons. It is quite a considerable size and I have a splendid billet. We moved in on the 20th from Thulin and a bunch of us got a billet just off the square in a private house but without beds so yesterday afternoon a chum and I started out to hunt for a better place. Our method of finding a billet is rather amusing but also quite successful. In all towns which have been occupied by the Boche the windows of each house have a card with the name and nationality of the occupants, their occupation and age. This came in very useful to us in our search for besides wanting one to ourselves with a bed we wanted to find a quiet place with a small family. And this was not all that we wanted. You will think that we were rather fussy and I admit we were. But we want to increase our knowledge of French as much as possible and at the same time hear the stories which they had to tell and so were on the lookout for a place with young people.

The older French and Belgian peasants are difficult to understand while younger people between the ages of twelve and twenty-five speak more distinctly and with a little knowledge of French are easily followed. So as we went up the street we jotted down a few promising numbers for future reference. We called at a couple of these places and they were all right in all but one particular. They had no spare bed. Then we came to our present billet which we had marked for a try and found a nice looking young lady of twenty-two standing in the doorway. I promptly asked for if she had a billet for two with a bed to which she replied in the affirmative. It was a large house just opposite the chateau and the room was a nicely furnished one facing west so we were quite satisfied. Of course according to the time honored French and Belgian custom coffee was the first thing. They are very strong on the coffee. Since coming here yesterday afternoon we have had no less than eleven cups.

There are three of the family, the young lady I mentioned and her father and mother and they certainly do all in their power to make us comfortable. Last evening they asked us out to the living room as soon as we came in after supper and passed around coffee. We wrote a couple of letters. Each then started talking. They told us much of what had happened during the past four years and asked a lot of questions about Canada. Showed them some snaps and passed a very pleasant evening. About eight o'clock they made a big dish of cocoa and were not satisfied until we had done away with a generous helping of pie and two large cups of cocoa. They are too hospitable for we know that they have no more than they themselves need and yet they are insulted if we do not share it with them. Today when we came in at dinner-time after morning parade they had a big plate of soup waiting for us too. And so it goes. They cannot do enough for us.

Received two letters from you the other day but there has been no parcel mail for over a fortnight. We are expecting one tonight. In one of your letters you mentioned my writing about a dictionary. Yes Ben made a mistake but not in that way. However you will understand now. It was merely camouflage. I wrote thanking you for the box of biscuits. They were certainly good and I enjoyed them. You asked about the Witness and World Wide subscriptions. I haven't the last copy of the World Wide at hand but the Witness expires the end of the December and the other probably at the same time. However I think it is hardly worth while renewing them as we will surely be home early in the new year. Some of my letters must surely have gone astray as I wrote twice telling you of my having received all the money you sent. Am glad you received the brooch OK and hope the other things would go all right also. Sent the snaps I had taken about a month ago and hope you get them even though they did not turn out much. I sent you a parcel the other day with a few souvenirs. Have been carrying the ink well in my kit and got the pen rack broken and did not have a chance to get it re-soldered. However you can get it done and polished. It is rather a good souvenir to me from the fact that the ink well itself was made by the Germans. On our first trip into Liewin early in the summer of '17 I found it on a table in a German headquarters dugout, full of ink where it had been in use. It is made out of a French shrapnel fuze and I put it into the ball, part of a German 77 mm cartridge case and made the pen rack out on the driving band of one of our own eighteen pound shells. The two rosaries were found near Cambrai and the medallion near Valenciennes. There are no longer any restrictions in the use of cameras and I have some splendid snaps which I will send you whenever I get the chance to make some more prints. They are I think the best souvenirs that one can have of the war and the life out here.

Was very sorry to hear of Mrs. Irwin's death. Yes it certainly was a sad case. [This may be a reference to Spanish flu] We all had a touch of the' flu last June while out on rest and some of the fellows were quite sick with it and a number made Blighty. I was fortunate however in having a very light touch of it and never went off duty.

Ever since coming back off leave I have been intending to write a description of our trip but we have been head over heels in work and I never got around to it. However I will try and do my best now so here goes. Our leave came in on the night of September 2 while we were in position in front of Arras at a little village of Athies together with Herb McEwen, Pete McNevin, the chap with whom I spend my leave in Paris, and another. Next day we started off just after dinner. Went to the pay master for our money and on to the railhead at Duisans, about 20 kilos from the battery position where we arrived at about 10 o'clock. We spent the night here at the rest area and the next morning reported at the station at 6:30. Our train left at about 7 and arrived at Boulogne about 10 at night, not very rapid transit but c'est la guerre. However we found a good hot supper awaiting us in Boulogne cooked by the W.A.A.C.D.'s which changed the aspect of things considerably.

Next morning we were up bright and early and after considerable red tape got on board the boat and underway about 9. Had a splendid trip across. It was clear with just enough sea to make the trip pleasant. We landed in Folkestone a little after noon and got a train for London about one. At Victoria Station where we arrived about 4 p.m. we were met by Y officers who took us in Y.M. car to the Maple Leaf Club nearby. Here the pay master was waiting for us to cash our checks, after which we got to a good hot bath and dinner. We took rooms for the night and after buying a few little things we needed we went to the Coliseum Theatre where we saw a very good show and believe me a it was a treat to hear some good music again.

Next morning we did not get up very early. Spent most out the day getting things we needed and getting fitted up generally for leave. Spent part of the afternoon in the club recreation room reading and listening to the music for there was always someone at the piano and after supper we took a walk down the Strand to see the crowd. Had lunch at one of the restaurants about nine, went back to the club for our stuff, took the underground from Victoria to Kings Cross, caught the 10:15 to Edinburgh. Pete and I were of course travelling together. Herb was staying over to see some fellows in one of the camps. We had a couple of Scotch nurses going on leave in our compartment and of course became acquainted. We played a few games of whist and cribbage to pass the time. We opened out our lunches about midnight, then did away with a box of chocolates that we had brought along and after smoking a good night cigarette settled back in the cushions for a snooze. Daylight found us about the border and we got into Edinburgh about eight o'clock. Went to the Y. for a clean up and breakfast and spent the forenoon re-visiting the places we had been in May, '16 but there were too many soldiers in Edinburgh for our liking and we wanted to find some place quieter. We had made no definite plan for our leave other than we were going to Scotland for when a fellow gets leave from France he wants to get some quiet place where he can have the best. He does not feel like travelling around all the time, he wants to get into as home like a place as possible. So we took the two o'clock bus to Aberdeen in search of such a place, arriving there at 5:40. On our way up on the train we met Milt Stewart and Angus Murchison who came across a couple of days ahead of us on their way to Aberdeen. The four of us went to the Y to find a good place to stay and they recommended Miss McBain's on Huntley St. There we got a room with two beds for the four of us, just what we wanted. Had a wash and went down to tea and that meal decided us. It was the best meal I had eaten since leaving Charlottetown and that is saying something for I have had some good ones in Blighty and Paris. The people were perfectly splendid. From the very first they welcomed us as if we were their own sons. Before we got up from the table we had decided to spend the greater part of our leave in Aberdeen, for whether there was anything of interest to see or not such a home as that was not to be passed by. After supper we went out to have a look at the town before dark. We walked down one of the main residential streets to Union Street which is in soldier slang the 'main drag'. The thing that struck us most forcibly was the cleanliness of the place. The city is built entirely in grey granite which in itself gives a tidy appearance but beyond that everything was kept scrupulously clean. It was Saturday night and everybody was out in their "glad rags". The Scotch are a fine looking race and when dressed up certainly present a splendid appearance. There were not a great many Canadians in Aberdeen and those who were the very best class of our boys. This together with the work done by the Canucks at Monchy assured a welcome everywhere from the hospitable people and girls.

Naturally after having been for two and a half years away from people who spoke our own language we wanted to get acquainted with some nice girls for the few days leave we had. Customs in the old country are different from those in Canada and you can pick the best class of girls in the town on the street. They know that a soldier has no other means of getting acquainted and so do not consider it an insult or unconventional if you go up and speak to them. This is especially true with the Canadian in Aberdeen for they think the Canadians are just about perfect and as their own boys are all away they enjoy our company as much as we do theirs. So we went in pairs, Pete and I going together and pretty soon we had become acquainted with two very nice young ladies. Walked around for a while to see the place and the crowds, then went to a restaurant for supper. By this time we had found out that our lady friends were quite good musicians, both being good singers and pianists. My friend sang in the choir of her church. They were also quite well educated and carried on a lively, interesting conversation so we made an engagement to meet them the next afternoon. They were to be our guides and show us the town.

Sunday morning we had breakfast about 9 and went to church with a naval chap who was spending the weekend with Miss McBain, one of the first young Englishmen I have met. Sunday morning was fine and after church we took a walk through the residential section of town. But at dinner time it clouded up and there was a nasty drizzle of rain by two o'clock. Went down to the girls' house, met the family and as it wasn't fit to go out spent the afternoon there. Of course they wanted to hear of some of our experiences but we soon changed the subject to music and had the old piano ringing out some of the old hymns and patriotic songs, and in this way spent a very enjoyable and homelike afternoon. In the evening it changed from a mist to a downpour so we decided not to go to church. Sat around Miss McBain's parlour and our naval friend entertained us at the

Monday morning we slept in until about nine and spent the forenoon around the house. In the afternoon we went down to the beach and had a dip in the North Sea. Aberdeen can boast a splendid beach which a little earlier in the season would be an ideal bathing place. The water was quite cold the day we were out and there were not many in. Caught a tram back to town and got in just in time for supper. After supper we met the girls and taking the tram at the corner of Union and Huntly went out to the Brig 'o Don on the outskirts of the city. This is one of several beauty spots that we afterwards saw but of them all I think it is the most beautiful. You cross the Brig of Don and after a short walk along a beautiful avenue and up the brae, come to the ancient Brig 'o Balgown which we also crossed. We arrived here just before sundown and the picturesqueness of the scene was hard to beat, the slanting rays of the setting sun dancing hither and thither among the shadows on the river as we strolled along the narrow pathway half way up the brae on the other side. As it grew dark we took the tram back and went to the Tivoli Theatre where we saw a first class vaudeville.

Tuesday morning we were up betimes to see the fish market. For about a mile along the harbor they spread their morning catch out for sale, the different varieties of fish together and for a couple of hours the market presents a scene of rare activity. Later on in the forenoon we went around to the regular market. The afternoon was rather disagreeable so we stayed in. By this time we had decided to spend ten days in Aberdeen and have a good rest. Consequently we had plenty of time to see all the places of interest without hurrying. In the evening we took the girls to the Palace Theatre.

Wednesday morning, Pete, Milt and I went to Victoria Park where we spent most of the forenoon. The afternoon was a half day holiday for the girls and we went to Duthie Park, the largest and prettiest in Aberdeen. Spent a couple of hours here, then hired a boat and had a row on the Dee which lies on the other side of the town from the Don. In the evening we went on a tram to Deeside to see the Bridges of Dee, the main passenger bridge known a Brig 'o Dee and the Suspension foot bridge further up the river. We crossed the bridge and followed a footpath up the brae to the main road. Along the road about two miles was another footpath turning to the right which led to the foot bridge. We missed this footpath however and first thing we knew we were about two miles past the bridge and had to go back. We found our road OK, crossed the bridge and made for the tramline at Bellevue. But alas the suburban trams stopped running early and the last one had just gone. There were no taxis to be got so there was nothing for it but to walk - a distance of about four miles to the centre of the town. However at Mamering we were fortunate to get a city tram which cut the distance in half and we arrived home about 10:30.

Thursday morning we took a walk around town after breakfast then went back to the house and read until dinnertime. In the afternoon we went to the Art Gallery which contains much of interest and beauty. After supper with our guides whom we threatened to fire after losing us the night before we went to Rubslaw (?) to see the granite quarries which are three hundred and forty feet deep. All the granite for the building of Aberdeen has been taken. The town is built absolutely of granite so you can imagine the amount that has been taken out of those quarries.

Friday morning we also spent at home and in the afternoon we went to Marischal College the great center of learning in Aberdeen and the finest granite building in the world. There are is quite a considerable museum attached where we spend a couple of interesting and profitable hours, - also saw the splendid convocation hall and climbed the Tower from which we had a wonderful panoramic view of the town, harbor and surrounding country. In the evening the went with the girls to Cultin (?) to one of the suburbs to see the statue of Rob Roy and the bridge over which he is supposed to have jumped to escape capture.

Saturday afternoon we went again to the beach for a dip and the evening being exceptionally fine we went again to the Brig 'o Don, the most beautiful spot of all.

Sunday morning was wet but we went to church and by dinnertime it was much finer, - because we went to church perhaps, so in the afternoon we went for a walk around the harbor and back by way of the beach. The evening we spent with the girls at their house.

Monday was rainy and disagreeable so we stayed near the fire. In the evening went to His Majesty's Theatre to see "Fair and Warmer", a very good play which had just arrived from London. Tuesday was our last day and it was also wet, a Scotch mist falling all day so we did not go out much. We caught the six o clock for London and believe me we were sorry to leave Aberdeen. The people had sure used us white. Our landlady every evening had hot cocoa and a good supper awaiting for us when we came in, just the same as one would get at home. We landed in Lincoln at about 6 am. The following morning and after a shave and wasn and a good breakfast went out to the R.A.F. barracks where I soon found Claude and believe me I was glad to see him. He had no trouble in getting two days leave to London and we took the two o'clock train arriving at 5:40. If I remember rightly I told you about this part of my leave before so will not go into it again. Had given you but a rough outline of our leave but I will soon be home now and will be able to tell it much better than I can write. The postcards I sent will describe what we have seen better than pen. Suffice it to say that we had a good rest and a splendid time and came back to France ready for the hard-work that was ahead of us feeling absolutely fit and just in time to take our part in the greatest advance of the war which turned out to be the greatest victory in history. Am enclosing a few snaps which I took while over on leave. Had only one good day in Scotland for taking pictures after I got the camera and so did not get as many as I would have liked but got postcards of most of the places of interest which are just as good. Pete took some of Claude and I in the London but the film was bad and they didn't turn out, worse luck.

Now Mother I think this is long enough so I will say goodbye.

Love to all, Harold