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Date: April 9th 1917

Monday April 9, 1917

Chisleden Camp

Dear Family,

The Canadian mail has been coming in very regularly lately. I haven’t had a letter for over two weeks, though I had two of your cards Mother, which are just as good as letters and a lot of papers. I was glad to learn that the Presbyterian and Westminister had made such a good beginning. Then I had a letter from Will today which contained no news except that he was well, and also a short note from Cousin Kate saying she would be glad to see me when I come to Scotland. I think that I have all my Cristmas correspondence [?] of now, except a letter to Jean Bull. It was a great surprise to me to get a letter from Beryl Cooke about a week ago. She writes a very nice, easy gossipy letter about nothing in particular yet interesting from start to finish: it’s an art which I is excelled in by women more often than men.

Saturday afternoon Dorland and I had a very nice little trip. We had sort of drifted apart lately – no quarrel or anything, just a temporary divergence [?] or sickening of each other’s company – but now we have become intimate again. We both had midnight passes to Swindon and as it was a beautiful afternoon (to-day by the way is freezing with an icy west wind and a cold day snow – Oh to be in England!) thought it would be a fine idea to hire bikes in Swindon and ride to Ciencester (pronounced Cisiter, soft C) a town of sevin thousand pop. In Gloucestershire about sixteen miles away. Unfortunately the first part of our plan fell through completely. You couldn’t hire bikes for love or money. But after being disappointed at half a dozen places our determination to go some place was as firm as ever so we took a train. I got a little guide book which won’t go in the envelope so I just tore the pictures out. They give a very good idea of the town and the church which is the main feature or interest. The place was a famous old burgh in roman days when it was known as Counium but of course no traces of this occupation remain. After visiting the church we took a walk and then had supper of bacon and eggs at the finest hotel in town - The King’s Head I think it was called facing on the market place. You can see from the pictures what a beautiful town the church has. It has a [?] for miles around. I don’t think I was ever so impressed by the beauty of Gothic architecture as when in the evening as it was growing quite dark Dorland and I were returning towards the town to get the train after a short walk in the country. The tower looming up above the houses looked like an insubstantial faery thing, something impalpable which would melt away into the atmosphere. It looked exactly like the ghost of the middle ages brooding over the place. On or arrival, as soon as we got down to the market place we met three military police. We nearly fell through the pavement because of course our passes were only marked for Swindon and we had not counted on running into these gentlemen.  By the greatest of good fortune they didn’t ask to see our passes!

Do you know I have been wondering lately why I ever enlisted. Apart from the slight influence that my example may have had, I don’t think I shall ever be the slightest use to the army – in fact that is what a friend of mine told me the other day and one of the N.C.O’s told me that he couldn’t [?] think of anybody more unsuited for the life. It is hateful to be cutting a ridiculous [?] all the time and yet if it were all over again I don’t think I would have acted very differently. The real reason I enlisted – it is not through egoism that I am telling you this but because I think it is interesting psychologically and has a [?] application – was because others who were better than I and whose lives were more full of promise had sacrificed everything. It wasn’t through patriotism but because it seemed as though there were a to all young met to give up their easy pleasant lives and their dearest ambitions to make a great sacrifice for the sake of high ideals. As writer in “The Nation” said the old men made this [?] and the young men are paying for it, it seemed just as if the old men said “Here’s a very hard thing for you to do, can you do it?” and waited to see what kind of stuff the younger generation was made of. Then the best and bravest accepted the challenge immediately and the rest of them gad to think “Can we stand by and make no sacrifice when so many are sacrificing everything?” That is a question it seems to me must bother every decent man whether he is a conscientious objector or has other reasons for not enlisting. It does not seem right when the whole world should pass through an agony and that some should not be affected by it in the slightest degree. Then although I am no Puritan and have a pleasure loving nature, I had always believed that life was not primarily to get enjoyment out of but to develop character. It was a battlefield, a place for a struggle, a teaching ground. Then I thought to myself ‘you profess to believe one thing, but you live in accordance with other principles. Heres a chance to put your beliefs into practice. Can you do it?” I still hold this view of late and I try to believe that there is a plan for my life and yet I am hopelessly perplexed by the spectacle of so many lives without a plan and so many lives put to a most unreasonable malevolent-appearing test and failing necessarily. I have to reconcile a determinate view of the universe with a religious philosophy of life and the [?] can arrive at so far is a sort of [?] Pantheism.

I am tremendously pleased at the entrance of the United States into the war for two reasons. First it will revive the ideals with which the Allies entered the war – no one can possibly doubt the motives of the U.S. and secondly the personal influence of President Wilson when it comes to discussing terms of peace will, I am sure, be excellent. It seems to me he is the greatest statesman living to day.

How how I long often, to be back in the study or the parlour after tea with the blinds drawn and just  ourselves or perhaps one or two close friends! I know from his letters that Will often feels the same way. If we both come through we shall appreciate our home all the more. I feel so sorry for poor Mr and Mrs Hamilton – and Henry and Frank as all in the [?] of it. It is time we are going to France. You can have no idea how utterly demoralizing a life a life like this is. I really believe now though that the war will be over in a few months.



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