Search The Archive

Search form

Collection Search
Date: November 21st 1915

Somewhere with British Forces, in
  The Land of the Living,
    By the Grace of God, and the
      Inferior Artillery Practise of
        His Imperial Majesty’s Gunners,
          This 21st Nov. 1915.

Dear Dad,-

I received several letters from home last week, one from you and one from Mally, but I must have lost them in the trenches, for I cannot find them now. However I noted with pleasure that you are sending me a box of apples. They will be much appreciated by the "A" Co'y mess I am sure and I hope they will arrive quite safely.

War is undoubtedly Hell or a sort of refrigerated Hades where they keep you until the time comes to dump you into the real Hot Places. These little parcels from Home seem to have preserved in them some of the warmth of our own fireside and if it isn't intense enough to thaw out our feet, at least it sends a glow of renewed life through our numbed sensibilities, and quickens our longing memories.

And yet we aren't always so badly treated. The peculiarity of this war is that, while actually in the fighting line you suffer very considerable hardship, it only requires a little journey back about five miles or so to find warmth and comparative luxury. There we are on this clear, cold, frosty Sunday afternoon, sitting in a fairly warm room with a marvellous table of rough boards of trestles in front of us and a real oil lamp thereupon, drinking tea and munching good buttered toast like civilized human beings. Of course, down in our tent it's pretty chillsome of a morning but our blood is getting as thick as molasses and I don't think we shall be bothered very much.

It looks as though it was the determination of the Supreme Command to keep Tommy dry and healthy this winter and ready for any calls made on him in the spring. During our last hour in trenches we had the very worst sort of conditions to contend with, water with ice on top of it up to the middle of the thighs, mud so thick that it made one physically weary ploughing through it- yet the men came out pretty fit, thanks to high rubber boots and a little coke to cook warm meals. The men are equipped as no army was ever equipped, and their health is astounding.

Our last turn in played me out pretty well, but I have slept for forty-eight hours and feel fine again. We had to keep working parties on the job from early morning till midnight draining the trenches and trying to get things into good shape and keep them so. Earth has a funny habit of caving in just when it is most important that it should stand up. We work the men, of course, in four hour shifts, the front line doing one shift and the second line the other two; but the officers have to be pretty much on the job right through, to keep things going, under the circs., and besides do their part of the night watch. Then they put on this little show of which I have sent Fern a clipping from the paper, which kept us up that night and rather uneasy the next for fear of a come back. We were loaded for hear that next night and almost felt dis- appointed when Fritz didn't come over to see us. Poor old Fritz, he's pretty aged opposite us, mostly from 28 to 40 and rather more uncomfortable than we are. Our lines are in an excellent position and when we get through will be permanently drained and dry, I hope. The engineers are working over-time and should have things in good shape soon.

Did you know that the Canadians were complimented on the condition in which they left their last trenches at "Plug Street"? An Army order came out advising 0.C.'s units to send representatives to Plug Street to see how trenches should be left, so I am told. General Alderson said: "Well, boys, you have done wonderful work; you have filled 50,000 sand- bags!"

By the way, why don't our papers tell these actual facts instead of the infernal Sam Hughes style of lolow which I saw in one the other day about "wherever Canadians are, that is the post of honour and danger in the line." Everyone here knows that Plug Street is the "cushiest" spot in the British line, that we were there all summer and the longer we stayed the cushier we made it, and that all summer there were only about 100 casualties in the whole division, that we were sent there for a rest and got it! In other words, that Canadians are treated very much as other A1 troops in the British Forces;-used, and then rested when circumstances permit. If they would get ahold of the rather acid humour of war as it is and leave the heroics stuff in its proper place,-only occasionally peeping out from the background.

Some of the most real and life-like things about the war are written in Punch by people actually at the front. Distrust the glittering article by the war correspondent who sits in London most of the time. They are usually highly coloured and over-drawn, with a few notable exceptions. There is one thing which I think this war will do for Canada if the returning leaven of her sons on service can leaven the lump. It will knock a great deal of what Tommy rather vulgarly calls "bullshit" out of her life, and make the average Canadian realize the real humour of real life, even at its tragic worst. Things are really screamingly funny if you are only sufficiently in earnest! Which is paradoxical but no less true.

This morning being Sunday we had the usual Service in the Field. The battalion looked much smarter on parade than one would expect. As Sergeant Whitacre says: "As smart as the Guards; but not quite as tall." Padre Gordon, son of the late principal of Queen's, conducted the service. He is a great chap, comes up into the trenches and bums around with the lads quite a lot. All about us were the peaceful fields and farms of Flanders with their quaint four-armed windmills and long rows of slender trees. The service was quite impressive, with the battalion band, their mud-scarred uniforms contrasting strangely with their glittering instruments , -fighting men,-every one of them, playing the hymns. We all bared our heads for the benediction,-
"The peace of God which passeth all understanding"--- far up the nearby hillside from a clump of trees a sharp voice broke the quiet of the morning: "Ten points right; elevation five degrees"----"be with you and remain with you"---"Lyddite; are you all ready! Battery Fire!" and the four great monsters roared their defiance of that benediction with echoes that rolled and rumbled through the hills and dales as we replaced our hats. Verily it does "pass all understanding".

Well old Dad I hope you are not working too hard and are feeling quite well. For Heaven’s sake be good to yourself. Noone else will, you know!

I must close now to catch the mail or this will miss the boat. By the way it is quite possible that our Brigade will be out of trenches and go back for a rest about Xmas. That should be pretty fine dope eh! The boys are naturally pleased as they have been on trench duty now for many months. A couple of weeks' uninterrupted rest will he just the thing, with lots of marches!

Yours lovingly

Original Scans

Original Scans