Search The Archive

Search form

Collection Search
Date: November 25th 1915

Front Line,
November 25th. 1915.

My dearest Girl:

As a rule I find it rather difficult to write in trenches, but this time I am in command of the garrison at Battalion Headquarters, where we make use of the remnants of a once very pretentious farm house, and are able to keep reasonably warm and are sufficiently far behind the lines to give us a reasonable feeling of security, except during the daily interval when the Alleymen vent their spleen in high explosive style upon our already sadly shattered roof. As a rule they fail to register, but put them close enough to send us scampering to cover for fear of the splinters.

Its a very strange thing, but this farm house has been shelled every day that I have been out here. They have sent them into the pond on the left, into the road on the right. They have dug up the grave yard in front and smashed up the row of trees behind. They have even planked them fair and square in the middle of the courtyard, but only twice in over a month have they ever made the bricks fly.

The officer I took over from pointed out to me a room under the loft which had a vaulted brick ceiling, and said it was a very safe place. When I enquired why, he said "Because it had never been hit yet”! which was rather obvious, but not very convincing. However, I am in there speculating on [?] and the resisting qualities of arched brick roofs. However, we are fairly comfortable here and can build a nice fire, and dine with the C.0. so things are pretty "Jake" as the men say. They have a row of nice dugouts (large and shell proof) which are as warm as toast, and which they seem to fancy more than the nice safe tents back in billets. Make a soldier fairly comfortable and he doesn’t mind if you heave shells at him all day, so long as they don’t hit too close!

The day before yesterday two English Officers arrived from the south Wales Borderers, one of the new battalions - to spend a few days with us, and get some tips on trenches. Their units are still back in England and expect to be out shortly, so this was just a little preliminary canter for instructional purposes. The fame of the Plug Street trenches has gone abroad, so they are coming to see how the Canadians build their trenches. Why they don’t send them to Plug Street I don’t see. They would there see the result of a summer’s undisturbed work.

Where we are now is one of the oldest fighting lines on the front. We have had plenty of fighting to do and artillery fire to contend with and now the rain has made a finish of the job, so there isn’t anything very "model" about the ditches we are in now. However, we are constantly at work and I have no doubt they get many useful tips on trench repair and construction, and a new idea of what the "enemy" cut here comprehends. Moreover, they just arrived in time for the biggest artillery affair on this sector for some months, which took place yesterday. It was a regular hurry up shoot, with our artillery doing the dirty work. To our great surprise Fritz made a very feeble reply, although we battered a small part of his line for a couple of hours in the morning and all afternoon long. The noise was hellish and one of our men was brought back from the front line with shattered nerves. He was sent to me to look after, and I took him to the deepest dugout I could find and gave him a shot of rum. He kept ducking and jumping every time one of cur guns went off, poor blighter. Our losses were quite trifling and the men were highly elated to see the German parapet go sky larking. We uncovered tables and chairs and whole bedroom suites. One nine inch shell sent a whole dugout heavenward without smashing it. Hope the poor blighters inside didn’t get seasick. This morning their lines look like some old rubbish heap. The only thing that worries us is that they are so uncannily quiet and meek. I hope they are not plotting some new coup, otherwise the general situation is very "very encouragin’ to the troops".

Our English guests took a quite childish delight in the strafe and went off this morning about six o’clock quite tickled to death with themselves and impressed with the qualities of the tight little Canadian Army. I’ll wager a pound or two on either one as the tallest yarn swopper in England when they get home again! I had an awful time getting rid of the, in time to catch the car that was to meet them at the Brigade. First they told me what a fine chap I was, then they put on their boots, then they told me what fine chaps we all were and put on their collars, and tie. I carefully handed them their coats, which they equally carefully placed over their arms while they told me how pleased they would be to meet us out here again and put in a little show along with the Canadians. Then they offered me cigarettes and put on their coats, adjusted their packs and handed their valises to the two men who had been patiently standing at the door for twenty minutes. Finally they disappeared through the gateway, with a handshake and a wave and "Well old chap, ta for just now, best of luck”.

The other night just after we had come in the old guard got his - George Mackenzie’s platoon sergeant who has been in every show the Canadians have put on without a scratch - We were all sitting in H.Q. when buzz - buzz - went the phone, and the Adjutant answered it - "Hello, what already" - "You don’t say so" "Seriously"! - "That's good". Then turned round - "Sergeant Whitacre shot through the shoulder in "A" Coy. front line". We went cut to meet the stretcher coming down. Soon the sound of voices could be heard and feet splashing in the muddy darkness, then the two bearers and the blanket covered figure appeared. "Well, Whitacre, old man, what’s the damage". "That you Capt. Alley? well they’ve got me at last, sir. "Well I guess you’ll be for "Blighty" Sergeant. And there was the weariness of a year of war and a note of satisfaction in the completion of his hash in the boy’s voice as he replied" I hope so, sir". I went down with him to the dressing station and they fixed him up and sent him off. The wound was a nasty one, but only a flesh wound through the muscles of the arm and shoulder and he should be alright in two or three months.

I had a letter from Mother last night in which she tells me how well you did in the little skit at St. Marks. I am awfully, glad dear one that the little affair was so pleasant and successful. She also tells me, however, that she thinks you are trying to do too much lately and are in danger of wearing yourself out, and I have been thinking much the same thing myself. It is splended to be active and energetic and feel you are accomplishing something, but you must be careful, my own Ferne. You are not the most robust little woman in the world and travel a good deal on your nerves you know. So please be careful of yourself for my sake, and don't get thin.

I am going to leave this letter over now until tomorrow, to see whether that mysterious letter from Ev. or Mr. Adams or better still one from yourself arrives. Its too late for us to catch the Saturday boat, so a day wont make any difference.

Saturday night:

Your letter arrived today dearest, and I am all excitement now until the box arrives. I sincerely hope that nothing happens to all these wonderful things I am being sent. So many things seem to go astray that one is almost driven to the conclusion that there is a convenient hole in the bag somewhere. However, perhaps my luck has changed lately.

Thank Jessie for me and tell her I shall see everything in suitable hands and shall myself drop her a note from the trenches.

The mysterious note from Stanley Adams hasn’t reached me yet, but I gather from your letter what was the nature of his communication. When it comes I shall immediately reply. Something must have detained it.

I wandered into Bailleul to-day with George to see if we could get any little things to send home for Xmas, but they seemed to have nothing but soldiers’ and chocolates, and they say you have plenty of both in Toronto nowadays, so I dont know what to do sweetheart.

Well, dear one, I must close for just now. I love you always, oh my little lonely Fernie.

Yours ever

Original Scans

Original Scans