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Date: February 23rd 1916

3rd Bn. Toronto Reg.
1st Canadian Div.
Feb. 23/1916.

My dear Mother:

It sometimes seems to me that my letters are a sort of continued-in-our-next apologia, because they are not more frequent. My intentions are always of the best but the performance seems to be a constantly deferred one. It seems that if I am not doing something, it is because I don't feel like doing anything at all and when I could write a letter a dozen things turn up which have to be done.

Even when we are out of the line now except in Brigade reserve there seem to be a thousand little details of reorganization to be attended to. Captain Mason is acting Second in Command and I have had the company alone with George. Capt. Dymond has returned from his course now and is taking on the job till Dougle returns so things will be easier. It keeps one busy doing subaltern's duties, watches, observation etc. etc., and at the same time attend to all the details of administration. This war is not the nice go-as-you-please affair it was when we first came out. Everything is more lively and the trench work is becoming more tiring. Fritz is showing some signs of spring-fever and we have to be ready to apply the ice-pack at a moment's notice or he might get delirious and do some damage, bless his heart! Our people are busy, but apparently in no hurry as everything still runs on as of yore, except that everything is being up a little and discipline gradually being tightened. During the long inactive winter months the troops almost inevitably get more or less slack, as do those in authority, and it takes a little while to restore things to their proper standard of efficiency for active work.

The Battalion was very much agitated over the letter which appeared in the Star and which you mentioned in your last letter. I think the C.O. saw it in a paper that was sent to him and immediately wrote to the Star giving them a rattling good calling-down for printing anything of the kind anonymously and we are also hoping to find out who the writer was. Such an accusation of course is nonsense and is the result of a habit of grumbling and grousing running to a dangerous excess.

Next Day.
Still putting it off; I'm afraid this letter will never reach you at all at all. This time it is night watches in the very frontest front line in all of France or Belgium. The snow is flying in great grey clouds, just like a Canadian winter night, and everything is wrapt in a clinging, exasperating mantle of darkness and silence against which a score of good lads are turning all the keenness of their observing powers, aural, optical, and nasal, with perhaps only partial success. I have just passed along our long section of trench muffled up to my ears, top-booted and belted with my little flare-pistol under my arm, beating along down the line against the wind and snow and noting with satisfaction that it is swinging around southward so lessening the danger of gas attack; occasionally pointing the little pistol heavenward and illuminating the snow-covered tract of No-man’s Land with a swift searching glare just to help us all satisfy that insatiable curiosity as to whether Fritz is still finding his dugouts comfortable. Every here and there on the way, something gleams of a sudden ominously from the corner of a traverse, and a ghostly steel-helmeted figure separates itself from the trench wall sharply and softly inquiring who is there and why. Perhaps you stop and chat for a few moments or perhaps, if you have a letter to finish between patrols, you merely answer and pass on until, arriving at the door of your own dugout, you shake off the snow and enter. No such thing, though, as taking off your coat in this weather. The bitter frost seems to get into these earthen prisons of ours and proceed to work itself into a state of still greater rancour. Ah! won't it be great in June when the nights, the damned nights, only last from ten till two, and you don't have to crack the ice on a shell-hole to wash of a morning. However the worst has passed - nothing yet has ever touched November, of stinging rainy days, day after day, day after day, and bitter rainy nights, night after night; when the sand-bags melted away and trenches sunk into a chasm of glutinous ochre as you watched them. At least old Jack Frost is a stable and faithful old soul, despite his harshness.

Your letter No. 31, dated Feb'y the ninth, and one from Dad arrived up to-night. Our rest in Corp. Reserve was three weeks, but the regulation leave of course is only 8 days. I have been feeling on the whole much better since returning to France, although at times my tummy gets rebellious in the night-watches. I don't think it is organic trouble at all, - merely nerves. The excitement of some of our days and the nervous energy required to meet the severe weather are at times too much and something simply ceases to punctuate. In my case it is usually my stomach.

I had one of the Belgium caps ordered to send to Kae or Mally but was so long calling for it that they sold it. Then I ordered another, about six weeks ago, and haven't been able to get into Bailleul since, so I suppose they will have sold that too.

Perhaps some day I may come home and command a Battalion, but it will be when I can say to myself: "I have done all I can out here; I'm worn out". I have no desire to have some other things said about me that are said by the fighting troops about some of the Majors and Colonels of the Hundred and Umptieth Battalion in Canada. Personally I would prefer a good staff appointment in the field if anything of the sort was coming my way.

There are rumours, merely rumours, that about March the 4th, me and my long-legged, red-headed, addle-brained Yankee batmen will pack our little steamer trunks and take a motor bus to St. Omer or thereabouts for a couple of weeks' course for me. I suppose it is no secret that great changes are being made in the equipment of our troops, more machine-guns, more of many new devices which are to startle the Bosche. I belive I am to make a special study of the Lewis Machine Gun. It ought to be a pleasant as well as an instructive variation. However it is not confirmed, but it is just possible that when you get this I may be out of the line for another short spell.

Well, Mother mine, I must out again so a kiss for good-night. Bless your heart, don’t weary yourself too much, and don’t worry about little Errol. I hope Mally is not getting run down again; she was so well for a while.

Best love, my dear ones, to you all, and kindest regards to all my friends,

Ethel sent me a picture of herself and the infant – quite good.

Original Scans

Original Scans