Saturday, Dec. 4th 1915
My dearest Nance,
I think when I last wrote I was stationed with 7 others at a bomb store behind the front line. Well, we had a fairly peaceful time there. They shelled us one afternoon, but it was mostly shrapnel and we felt pretty snug inside the dugout. After four days there we packed up, and at dusk fell in behind our squadron as it went by on the way to the front line. These marches into the trenches by night are something never to be forgotten. You go stumbling along in the dark, single file, just like "follow the leader" and "obstacle race" combined. Sometimes scrambling down into a trench when nothing but the quantity of soft mud at the bottom prevents you from damaging yourself. On you go knee deep in mud, and after a while you scramble out again with a supreme effort. Then perhaps there is open ground to cross in full view of the enemy trenches. Each time the star lights go up illuminating everything like a flash of lightening, the procession stands motionless until the light fades away, then onward once more. On reaching the front line we exchanged our boots for rubber waders. The man that had mine must have fallen down or been in very deep for there was a lot of water inside them, and I used up 4 pairs of socks before they dried out. Life in the trenches is not pleasant in winter time. You are practically wallowing in mud all the time, but still it was a very interesting experience. Looking through the periscope one could see the German trench very plainly about 130 yards away with a lot of ruined buildings behind full of snipers. We had a fairly quiet night, but the next day Wednesday was memorable for poor old C. Squadron. I think the British had arranged to bombard another part of the line, and the Germans, instead of retaliating there, concentrated their fire where they considered it would have most effect. This happened to be a front of about a quarter of a mile, the greater part of which was held by us. Anyhow at noon they started up quite suddenly, and for two hours we experienced one of the worst bombardment that have been for some time. There was nothing to do but sit still and smoke, smoke, smoke, and keep as cheerful as possible. The noise was terrific because the British shells went screeching over only a few feet above our heads. You will understand how warm things were when I tell you that during the two hours we lost nearly a quarter of our men. The Major had his leg broken at the start, and before the Captain, who is also a doctor, could come up he (the captain) was killed. We had nine killed including the sergeant major, a sergeant and corporal and about twelve wounded, and there were others who suffered severely from shock though they were not actually wounded. The front of the trench was blown in in two or three places, and several dug-outs blown to pieces with all the equipment inside them. Bill was knocked by a shell as he was digging a man out from under the debris, but he is not hurt except for being stiff. No Vermilion men were killed, though three that enlisted with us at Vegreville were. None of us grenade men got hurt. The next day we waited in anticipation of a similar ordeal. I made a hearty lunch of cheese and hard tack so as to be well fortified. Soon after, our guns started up on the German trenches. They sent back a few shots, but apparently were loath to take up the challenge, and things soon quieted down. While I was waiting for the shells to come, I received your letter. It had been blown out of the Major's dug-out with the rest of the mail and was wet through and almost out of the envelope, but it was readable and I was very grateful for getting it. We grenade men came out of the trenches yesterday afternoon and are now on the slope of a wooded hill in comparative safety. We had just got settled down, and I had just cooked my supper when I had orders to go at once to a farm about four miles away for rations. I missed the place and spent the evening wandering about, getting back about 9 p.m. I think we may go back for a rest tomorrow, but I don't know whether it will be to our old billets or not. One longs for a high and dry spot where you can get away from the everlasting mud and get cleaned up a bit. One gets caked in mud from head to foot, your food gets coated with it, and one lies down in it. In fact, I should say the most noticeable feature of a winter campaign is mud. The last parcel has not come yet. I have a very good scarf that Amy sent me, but the socks would be useful. Go easy on sending canned stuffs and tabloids. I found I was carrying more round than I needed as tea and sugar and condensed milk were issued in the trenches. The best things to send are cake, chocolate, anything of the sweetmeat variety, raisins or figs, a pot of fish paste occasionally.
Well, old girl, I had better close.
Heaps of love to you all
Your affectionate brother
P.S. I had no matches in the trenches and had to use the tinder lighter Doll gave me all the time. Please send a refill for it, also three handkerchiefs - at present, I am using a piece of sand bag.