Search The Archive

Search form

Collection Search
Date: March 19th 1916

3rd. Battalion Toronto Regiment.
1st Canadian Div.
March 19/16.

My dearest Mother:

The mails certainly seem to be in a great state of confusion. Not a thing have we had for three weeks or more, until yesterday and today, when Canadian letters between dates of February 19 and March 3 came in in a heap. So I had two letters from you, one from Mally and two from Fern besides a number of papers and am consequently feeling considerably bucked. It must have been due to some derangement of transport between England and Canada as the English mails have been coming in fairly regularly. Of course there is an unusual amount of movement of all sorts of munitions and equipment in expectation of the breakup of winter, signs of which are now quite apparent and I suppose that even His Majesty's once sacred Mails must now take a seat at least a few rows from the band-waggon.

It’s most extraordinary the effect of a little sunshine and balmy air upon the troops. Our first really fine day drifted along while we were in trenches just after I got back from the school. It was an extraordinary desire on the part of everybody in the trench to remove all their accoutrement, abandon their rifles and sun themselves lazily in any crannies where the full strength of old Sol’s rays could be felt. That was just the first phase; a sort of general letting down of the tension of nerve and muscle; for after all our chief resistance in the winter months is not against the Bosche so much as against conditions which each side endeavours by a pleasant process known as "strafing the trenches" to make worse if possible. That briefly is what winter fighting consists of, except for what are known as "winter sports", just small raiding expeditions into the enemy lines at night, smashing machine guns, destroying mine saps and generally making yourselves as offensive as possible for fifteen or twenty minutes. Then when the Bosche in support wakes up and counters, you leave hurriedly and turn the artillery and rifle grenades on his full trenches. If the troops seem to be getting slack or too weather-deadened, one of these little games livens things up. Morale is everything in war, you know.

However that long range sort of fighting will, I suspect, soon come to a welcome end. Everybody is heartily sick of monotonous inaction and rumours of impending moves are gobbled up with considerable interest. The men may be seen of their own accord smartening up their worn and mud-scarred uniforms and brushing off the surface part of that toughness which characterized us all. Attention to commands is smarter, saluting has suddenly become quite popular, and is carried out with a snap which would do credit to the Guards. And so the first enervation of spring is giving place to a new energy, an energy which will not be wasted in vain endeavours to keep the feet warm, but which we hope will be latent and ever increasing until such time as the bugle sounds the advance. Those who have been through a summer and winter campaign say that so long as the weather is good, the men never grumble at the hardest work or the greatest fatigues, but a rainy night lets loose all the profanity of three languages.

The announcement re Lieut. Platt’s promotion to a Captaincy must refer to some other and more fortunate Johnny, I fancy, as no such order has come to my notice as yet. There are several ahead of me in the battalion yet and I have no prospect of or desire to be promoted (?) to the 14th Bn. Don't worry, my dear folks, I’ll get there all in due time and perhaps before long. At the present time I am attached to the machine-guns and also expect to do a little Intelligence Work if the C.0. is agreeable to my taking it on. Consists largely in keeping a sharp eye on Fritz and trying to fathom his baseness, for the benefit of the G.O.C. It’s extraordinary how little details of apparently irrelevant information are correlated by the staff and prove invaluable.

I am sorry to hear that you are not feeling well. I am afraid you will be glad that the summer is on its way again. Do be careful of yourself and take things easily. I would like to be able to bring Mally over to England for a little while later on if possible, but that of course will depend on what Fern and I decide to do. Apropos of which I placed the point you raised very clearly before her and she answers that in case of any injury to myself "surely you would need me more than ever" and so with true feminine finesse throws the whole responsibility on me again. As far as I can make out, the only point which seems to worry her is that if, after the war I wished to go on with Law, I might feel that she stood in my way. Which is very dear of her of course and practically leaves it to me to say what we shall do about it. It is one of those cases where "the native hue of resolution is tinted o'er with the pale coat of thought", and where it is very hard to decide just what weight should be given to what under present conditions seem very material and sometimes almost unreal considerations, against the heart's strong desire. It's a wonderful war, you know, but it raises some knotty problems, eh?

Paul Sheard is in France with the third divisional Supply column. Of course one thoroughly agrees with Joe that the military could not get along without the civilian population, but I think we might for the period of the war consider three classifications, Military, civilians and violinists. Just what the utility of the latter is from the military standpoint has not yet been determined so far as I know.

I had a letter from Rona yesterday and she very kindly sent me a pair of splendid socks. She said there was a girl up there who knew Mally and Fern and yours truly by reputation at least. Kate Percy is her name but she is unbeknownst to me.

I see some perfectly priceless stuff in the Canadian papers that have come in. There are about three wonderful write-ups of Major Tidy, once Captain in this regiment, in which the said Major reluctantly (Ha, ha!) tells some of his experiences in the trenches. It’s extraordinary how some people get away with it; bands at the station to meet them, second-in-command of battalions invited to speak at Massey Hall etc.etc. And this is the man whom old Buster Reid, called, a ----          coward, to his face after Festubert! And of Major Newman who was among the best who ever came over, I see they say "he was in the party”. Immense, absolutely immense. Something the same as Captain Buchanan now of the 75th who came out here with reinforcements after Ypres. A shell burst in the same square mile as he was going up the road, for the first time and he went back with "battle shock”. How they have the nerve to do it I don't know. Then there is the absolutely unparalleled case of a soldier arising in the House of Commons and asking why he had never received any decorations. Our good friend Col. Currie spoke some truth when he said that two men stood in his way, Gen. Alderson and Sam Hughes. He was shot out of France so fast by the said Gen. Alderson he didn't realize why, I expect. After reading the Minister's reply, one is lost in wonder which is the damneder fool. These smooth English Generals I am afraid flam flam him some considerable in spite of his fighting qualities etc. or else he is trying to stand in with both sides.

As you say, our Brig. is a good sort and quite a hustler I think. He has, or used to have, some characteristic Hughes qualities I judge until the army bumped them out of him. Probably like Winston Churchill he could say: I have been away twelve months and now I see clearly. There is a good story told of him, when he came to take over the Brigade from General Mercer. He said in the course of conversation, "Well, General, I hope you will believe I got this appointment entirely on my merits and in no way due to my father's influence”. The old General looked him over pulling his mustaches the while. "Well Garnet," he said, "It's a good thing it was me you came to with that yarn for I’m probably the only man in the world who would believe it!” Garnet admitted to the old General the next day that perhaps his Dad had something to do with it. All the same, he is a good Brig.

Poor old George is in a very bad state of health and I don't quite know what to make of it. He gets terrible headaches and suffers from prolonged fits of depression. The doctor has given him light duty for a while but is rather at sea, I think, as to the seat of the trouble. Old John Knox is with us now, arrived about a week ago and is as beautiful as ever. We were all immensely glad to see him again. Doggie Mason is now a Major and gave a dinner last night to the mess. We had a great spread and a lively time of it. Am enclosing the menu. The "de For” is a sort of perversion of D4, a part of our section of trench which is about 40 yds. from the German line and about as unhealthy a place as one could want. I've just finished three hours in it and I know. Am also sending a couple of snaps I came across in my pocket book, taken in Somerset last autumn.

Must close now dearheart. Love to all.

Original Scans

Original Scans