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Date: November 10th 1915

3rd. Battalion,
Toronto Regiment,
1st. Canadian Div. B.E.F.,
Nov. 10th. 1915.

My dearest Ferne:

Blankets and pyjamas are remarkable things; they seem to awaken certain formany mental activities, which lie in a state of unassailable coma while one remains swathed in about ten undershirts and a pair of fairly damp boots, plus a greatcoat and a raincoat, gazing apprehensively into a little basket of sputtering coke, with a feeling of horrible certainty growing on one that before the night is over the damned thing will be out.

We are back in support now, pretty near the line it is true, in fact just about the place where most of the shells drop, but we were fortunate enough to have our kits fetched up to us, and to be able to air our bareskins under the shelter of a somewhat leaky roof of the considerably battered farmhouse which we are garrisoning. Consequently our fountain pens have been able to thaw out, and are running freely once again. From the point of view of comfort, this is infinitely preferable, and we can sleep all night with out boots and clothes carefully arranged for instantaneous robing, but on the other hand, one lacks that feeling of security, which arises from having something about four feet thick between you and the other fellow all the time. Stray bullets coming over the ridge in front have a habit of plunking suddenly into the vicinity uninvited and there is an unfortunate little village about two hundred yards away where the benighted Huns seem to think we are, and which they shall furiously every afternoon for a few minutes, doing considerable damage to the already somewhat fragmentary window panes. Consequently we show a certain disinclination to wander far away from the fetid boquet of aromatic odours, which the French and Belgians call the ’'Courtyard”.

They have some extraordinary habits and customs in some of these rural manages. For instance, to-night it has been raining and our roof began to drip in quite a number of places, so that we were forced to arrange our down couches with considerable discretion to avoid the streamlets. As I lay here I noticed that the little pools of water had an unusual yellow tinge not imparted to it by the clear vault of heaven. Wonderment soon became changed by suspicion, and armed with a candle, I stumbled up the staircase outside our door into the loft where I discovered a condition of affairs which gave rise to the deduction that our predecessors, the rightful owners of the establishment had used said loft as a warm and convenient chicken coop. Returning below I imparted the result of this reconnaissance to Capt. Mason, who proceeded to arrange his bed with still greater discretion, making use of a large rubber sheet which he has slung tent-like over him. Personally I appear to be in a piece of “dead ground”, and in an excellent state of defence when once I get under cover of the flap of my sleeping bag, with only a nose protruding over the parapet sentry-like. This is a case where a nose is eminently suited to note the progress of events. If it warns me that the position is becoming untenable I shall retire in good order into the cellar below while a way of retreat is still open.

I musn’t give you the idea however that this is a country of squalor and poverty. It is merely that Europeans have a different standard of sanitation and a different idea of what constitute comfort and prosperity to that of an Anglo-Saxon.

As a matter of fact one is struck at once with the surprising prosperity of this country of Flanders, even as imperfectly evidenced by its weeping ruins, of its extraordinary fertility and with what must have been in ante-bellum days the concentrated activity of its population. In England one sees vast stretches of rolling downs, large patches of woodland; the long rows of green hedges with here and there nestling into a garden and a patch of trees, a farmer’s cottage with all the marks of age carefully preserved, but as neat and tidy as one could wish. A vista of English landscape breathes the charm of silence and eternal peace. Here it is different. The land seems full and intensely alert. Dotted on every hilltop is a windmill busily whirring its four great arms in obedience to the elemental powers. Thickly dotted everywhere one can see the red tiled tops of farm houses and their equally fine outhouses framed in a square about the courtyard. Farm joins into farm, and the yellow and brown of crops and earth are more in evidence than the dull green of England's glorious meadowland. The peasants are unlovely but healthly looking and expressively active and practical and progressive. The farm houses are new as a rule, solid brick structures with a most modern appearance and of model design. There is a certain spic and span aggressiveness to the countryside when regarded in toto. It is only on closer inspection that we find that the handsome brick buildings are set in mud and stone, that the villages, though well built are filthy and untidy as one never sees them in England. Nevertheless living here as we do, in the ruins of the hopes and industry of so many thousands of helpless people, we can realize what a crime inexpiable the devastation of this land has been.

Every step an army takes, it destroys the handiwork of years, and inevitably so. To a soldier a beautiful farm house is only a nasty place where the enemy may have a machine gun hidden, a beautiful hedge is a soft avenue of hostile approach, and a tall church tower is a creation of all the fiends to enable those opposite to carefully observe his position and hammer it with artillery fire of deadly accuracy. They have no sentimental interest to him, his only sentimental interest is also the eminently practical one of keeping his own forces as safe as he can, so everything is levelled to the ground which lies in his path. War in its essence is the final tragedy of a civilization too material in its aims and ends. Well, the external works of that materialism are certainly passing in the debacle.

My dear, our army out here are becoming quite picturesque - when they are not too muddy. The other day they were all issued with long waterproof capes which come down to the knees and may be thrown back hanging by two straps under the arms and over the shoulders. I watched a guard marching down the street then, and it struck me as quite a Shakespearean pageant with the tails flying out behind them. One almost wanted to call them "The Watch". To-day they have received a great many hip rubber boots. When not in the trenches they roll the tops down with a graceful slouch around the knee like an old Jock boot. I watched a couple to-day approaching with boots and cape all arranged most rakisly, and methought about all they needed was a bonnet with a feather in it to make them a fair replica of a medaeval Italian swashbuckler.

I am so sorry, dearest, that you lost your Queen’s Own pin, and I am afraid I cannot get another just at present. However, I have my two 35th. Bn. collar badges which are being replaced with Third Battalion ones, and I was thinking of having them made up and sent home to you. It is really about the finest Maple Leaf badge I have seen and very solid. We still have pleasant memories of our old battalion, and believe that it was one of the best yet.

The other night a parcel came for me from you with a splendid pair of socks which I am now wearing. They look like Mrs. Davis’ handiwork and if so, thank her for me very much. You remember those raw silk hankies you gave me. Well they are O.K. just the thing for the trenches. I wonder if you would mind sending me half a dozen more of them. They do seem to disappear so rapidly like most other things out here.

To-day has been raining as usual and we have all been sitting around a wood fire in George’s billet, which is a palatial farm house a little father back, eating steadily into a parcel which Capt. Mason got from England, and reconstructing the British Empire, between bites. Quite an animated argument we had, until the Chaplain dropped in on us to enquire our opinion on the question of rum issue. Apparently some good women of the W.C.T.U. in Canada have been disapproving of putting temptation in the way of innocent youth. We expressed our opinion very forcibly and suggested that if he was making an investigation along those lines to come up to our trench at stand-to some bleak rainy morning and watch the effect of two teaspoonfuls of rum on the cold, shivering, mud-caked men. It may be an unnatural stimulation but we are living an abnormal life and need something to keep us going until we can light our fires and warm a little tea and cook some bacon. It would be much more to the point if these good ladies used their influence with Sir Sam to have removed certain officers who continually disgrace their uniform and betray the beast reposed in them.

Olive’s letter was very interesting and I am glad to know she is so comfortably settled. I never saw Billy, never could find out what battalion he was attached to.

Has your ring come back to you yet; I hope you will not be so foolish again young lady. People have strange ways with them in this world, so it pays not to be too enthusiastic. The whole episode was most unfortunate and disturbing.

God Bless you, dearest sweetheart, my own game little girl. Good luck to your cooking school adventure. Don’t let them teach you anything too dreadful. I think I shan’t be too fastidious if I ever get out of this mess. There is an idea or two buzzing feebly into life in my bean which I will spout out when fully developed.

Meanwhile, I just love you as before,
Yours always,

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