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Date: November 27th 1915

3rd. Battalion, Toronto Regiment,
Canadian Army Corps.
Nov. 27/15.

My dearest Mother:

Your letter and Mally’s of November the 11th, arrived last night also one from Fernie; so I have had all my spare minutes since taken up reading and rereading them. It is quite delightful to get so many at once. One’s hand just seems to shake a bit as it reaches out to get what Postie brings us. I am looking forward with great gusto to all the good things that will be tumbling in on me sometime before very long. I hope I shall have good luck and that none of the parcels will be lost in transit. I am beginning to be a little apprehensive about my box of apples as it must be a month now since they were sent. Major Allen received a small parcel from Michie’s which had been forwarded about the end of October, so mine should be along soon unless one of the light-fingered gentlemen back at the base have discovered the nature of its contents. I should be extremely disgusted if any of the things upon which you all lavished so much loving labour did not reach me in safety. A parcel came for me last week from Elie with peppermint candies and shortcake which was very good. I was in charge of the garrison of the Battalion Head Office and messing with the Battalion Staff last time in, so shared the cake with the C.O., Major Smith, who is now second in command and Captain Bert Alley who is Adjutant. By the way, strong peppermints are an excellent thing out here having something of the effect of spirits. We eat them on cold nights to induce warmth before going to sleep.

I don't remember whether I told you that Colonel Rennie has left us, been made a Brigadier and taken command of the Fourth Brigade which contains the 19th. and 20th. battalions; so Major Allen is now C.O. Captain Brook has gone to the Brigade Staff and Bert Alley takes his place. Furthermore, old General Mercer has been promoted to the rank of Major-General and taken over the Corp Troops, and the supposition is that if or when the Third Division is ready he will take command of it. In his place we have none other than Brig.General Garnet Hughes who was a Captain at Valcartier forsooth and whose rapid promotion, so the papers were at pains to inform us, has been nowise due to parental influence. We are skeptical but are told that he is a soldier of considerable ability, and of course he will get our best support in spite of the fact that his family is not held in great affection by the 1st. Canadian Division. He thought it wise to assure us all that he was "not in the least bull-headed", which was perhaps a wise precaution and an excellent introduction.

Well, Mother dear, the weather for the past week or so has been intensely cold with hard frosts every night. Our dugouts in the line are passable but these infernal huts are regular refrigerators with the cold coming in all directions. The billets up close behind the line are really the most comfortable. They usually consist of an abandoned farm house and barns with straw for the men to sleep in and the possibility of foraging a little wood. Here we have little stoves made of drums with holes punched in them - a sort of brazier in which we burn a pittance of coke and coal mixed - and a hole in the roof for ventilator and chimney. Just now Doggie Mason - excuse me - Captain Mason - is bundled up in a Burburry fleece coat and huddled into a rough chair of boards and canvas with a candle fixed on the back of it and trying his best to take an intelligent interest in the latest publication of the Round Table Society - "The Problem of the Commonwealth". George is facing another candle on the table writing while I am sitting on my improvised cot leaning against the wall and also wielding a rather shaky pencil. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we are warm but at least we have arrived at the stage where we don't feel the cold because it is a more or less permanent state unless we are on the move. However the mess just up the road at the farm house where the staff lives is fairly warm and cosy so we sit long at our meals.

It is quite astounding the care which is being lavished on Tommy Atkins this winter. The idea evidently is that nothing is as expensive as a few hundred thousand sick soldiers, so we have rubber boots in the trenches to keep the feet dry if not warm. Each man has just received an extra blanket and the ration of food is extremely liberal and of excellent quality; so that most of our hardships are of a superficial and temporary nature and not really undermining to the vitality of a fairly robust man. If the Alleymen would only keep indoors for a while we would be quite happy. This war is one of strain, constant strain rather than serious physical hardships such as in the South African War for instance. There they had very little fighting but frightful marches and half rations for weeks on end, whereas in this barbaric eruption in the centre of civilization we may be said to be fighting more or less strenuously about two days out of three and living on beefsteak smothered in onions under the very muzzles of the German guns. In fact last week the C.O., Major Smith, George Magann of Toronto, our artillery officer of the battery covering us, and myself were just sitting down to a most excellent steak after having supped a most wonderful stock soup when the Huns began to attend to us. They must have smelt the good food and gotten peeved, for they suddenly planted a husky shell right under our little window and upset our tea and milk. The next three went over the top of us and burst just behind. After the dust had subsided we continued our meal upon the assurance of our own artillery that they would give them tit for tat which they did to the tune of about twenty shells. You have to show these people that they can't start any funny work with impunity or immunity. We simply tore their front line to pieces not long ago "just for fun". Shells rained on them like hail in selected spots and gave them food for serious contemplation on the rising tide of our Munitions Wave. Ten minutes after our bombardment ceased a funny thing happened. One single solitary rifle grenade shot out of their battered trench and burst on our parapet showing that someone at least had lived through that hell of fire and was bidding us high defiance. The blighters dig into the ground about twenty feet or more and can outlive quite a battering. They have some trouble sometimes however before our lads are into their trench when a real show is on. When we attack we go in right under the last shell from our guns.

Well, Mother mine, having partaken of a rather satisfying meal and having visited my platoon quarters and seen that regulations regarding the care of feet were carried out and finally having issued a lot of rum all around I return to our shack to find that the worthy batmen by some grandly conceived and admirably executed larceny have managed to get an unusual fuel supply and have two braziers merrily blazing and a general atmosphere of near comfort in this candle-lit Chateau of ours. It is a great business, this of platoon commander. One's principal duty seems to be that of nursery governess to about fifty full-grown men . To see that they have proper food, to see that they have gotten an extra blanket apiece, to go in every evening at 7.30 and see that every man removes his boots and socks, rubs his feet briskly, applies anti-chilblain grease, and puts on dry socks before going to bed. The army is an example of parentalism to an almost dangerous extreme I should say. However we have to see that they keep themselves in shape whether they wish it or not.

George and I went into a nearby town yesterday to see if we could get a few little things for Xmas, but the quest was rather futile.

I find however that the peasants thereabouts make very fine lace and I shall have some made and send it home as a little remembrance later on. I would like to send you something peculiar to the country but the only thing I noticed in Bailleul as being peculiarly Flemish was the mud. It was unmistakable but untransportable.

Tell Mally I shall write to her soon, also to Kae and give my regards to all my friends you may see. I shall be able to write again before Christmas. Fern enclosed a composite letter from Stanley, Ethel and Mrs. Freeland which was very nice. I was so glad to hear that she had had her ring returned to her at last.

Well, Mother, dearest, best love to you and dear old Dad. Don't worry about me. I'm not always comfy but any hardships we have suffered so far only make the blood run thicker and heartier in our veins. I'm as fit as a fiddle.

Yours lovingly,

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