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Date: January 2nd 1916
Mother and Dad

3rd Battalion,
Canadian Corp.,
January 2nd/16.

My dearest Mother and Dad:

Another week has slipped by with the elusive slipperiness which the weeks seem to possess out here and with it Xmas and now New Year’s day. It seems hard to believe that we have been out here, George and I, close on to three months now and with Jim Gairdner are the only three left of the half-dozen officers who crossed from Folkestone pier that murky day in October. One was shot a week or so after we arrived while the other two are in England with rifle grenade wounds, not very serious, I hear. Altogether we have lost eight officers since then from various causes, none of whom are dangerously hurt.

It gives you some idea of the wastage which goes on even in quiet times like these. Were it not for the comparatively mild weather and the extraordinary precautions that are taken to keep the men well and fit under all conditions the problem of a winter campaign would be a very serious one to face indeed from the point of view of wastage. All things considered though, the armies in France are very fortunately situated, as compared with those of some of our other ventures, the ill-starred Gallipoli enterprise for instance, where the number of sick aggregates very nearly as much as the casualties from all other causes. It is a bitter pill to have to swallow, our withdrawal from that fierce battleground, particularly, I hear, to the Antipodean forces who have shed so much blood there and who so nearly won a brilliant success at Suvla Bay. Only the marvellous organization, good management and good luck of the actual final operations can compensate those gallant men for all they have suffered in what seems to have been from the first a forlorn hope; a "legitimate gamble of war" perhaps, but one in which the enemy seem to have held loaded dice. Garvin, in the Sunday Observer, characterizes it as the most serious reverse in the history of British arms, one of the few times we have had to confess that we couldn’t finish something which we had started upon.

It is to be sincerely hoped that the nature of the operations around Salonika will be such that the Australians will have a chance to participate in a comparatively successful enterprise. You have no idea what an impression our fellow colonials from "down under" have made upon the imagination of the English people. The Canadians they have seen and are used to by row; the Australians are unknown to the mass of the people except for the few long-limbed Stetson-hatted convalescents who tower through the London streets and from accounts from British officers in Gallipoli of the extraordinary deeds of dering-do accomplished by the Anzac Corp. Consequently they are almost regarded as a breed of super-men.

Yesterday was New Year's Day so as we are in billets we arranged a bit of an Xmas dinner for the men. It was all spread out on a long improvised table in one of the huts and decorated with a holly-bush that the men discovered on the hill behind us. Everything looked quite Christmasy with branches of green hanging from the peak of the roof and the table beneath all lit up with a long row of candles down the centre. We had a hind quarter of beef, potatoes and carrots, plum pudding with rum sauce, figs, dates, raisins, oranges and biscuits and ended up with an issue all around of rum punch prepared in the officers' kitchen. The band was in attendance and joy was unrefined for the space of an hour or two. I think everyone more or less enjoyed themselves.

We decided to have a little bust ourselves and sent the batmen out to forage for a couple of chickens. They had a extraordinary difficulty in convincing the good peasantry whom they interviewed that we really wanted to eat one and were steadily refused permission to take any until they came to a farm where the good woman was too old and bent to stop them, whereupon they gave her half a dozen francs and carried a couple off under her nose despite shrill expostulations in this barbarous lingo they call Flemish. Presently it was cooked and we realized why they never eat fowl in Belgium, we had to borrow bayonets to dismember the bird and George broke a fork vainly trying to get a grip on it somewhere. However it tasted a little different from the usual roast beef and turnips. We had a chap named Irvine Robertson, nephew of John Ross Robertson, of the artillery, in to dinner;--late of the 23d and 14th battalions. He was expecting to go on leave next week and be married to Sir John Perley's daughter in London. She is a pretty little girl, met her at Folkestone last summer at the Lyndhurst.

We had a couple of bad days the last time in the trenches, heavily shelled with six inch stuff in retaliation for smashing up their trenches with trench mortars. Unfortunately the bally thing had been firing from right near our trench so they hove most of the stuff at us. It was damned unpleasant for several extended periods and I lost my platoon Sergeant temporarily. A shell burst a few yards from the door of his dugout and the shock laid him out. I don't see how he escaped as I had to climb down a six foot hole and up the other side and shove a lot of earth away to get into the bally place. He'll be all right in about a week I hope.

The men are wonderful, I think. One old chap in the next bay to me where a shell had just exploded and killed two men, kept babbling away something about the poor old mother cat in his dugout whose kittens had all got scared and left her. Of course most shells explode either in front or behind the trenches fortunately, but when they land in them they certainly make it messy. But we should worry; there are three great eight-inch monsters just behind our billet and they bang away as regularly as the second arrives on the minute for an hour at a time often. Makes us feel cheery-like, y' know even if they do nearly shake us out of bed. They are a concrete and inexorable emblem to the men of our slowly rising ascendency. You have no idea how heartening it is to be walking down an old familiar road and discover one day two or three big chaps bellowing where before no noise was heard.

It is extraordinary the influence of little incidents on the spirits of the troops; for example a few days ago a whole fleet of English aeroplanes glided gracefully up from behind us and shot across over the German lines and despite heavy shelling flew on without faltering as though nothing would stop them this side of Berlin. It certainly was the sight of a life-time and kept everyone in good humour all the rest of the day.

George and I are due to get leave about the middle of January but are very much afraid we shall not be able to get it together as we are both in the same company and the only other sub. is in hospital at present. It isn't much fun just kicking around alone unless you have some definite place to go or special friends to stay with. I thought I might coax old Jack Crawford to get leave and go to Scotland with him in that case and there is also another idea in my mind which I would like a little advice from you in.

To come right to the point, Fern wants to come over to England this spring if possible and be married. Now of course I'm crazy to have her come and all that but the same problems present themselves as did in Toronto before I left. One thing has ceased to bother me much since I have gotten into the thick of things: what about after the war. In the first place I don't see any reason to feel sure that the war will end within a year or two years. This summer's events may settle it and that is the most one can say. If the war were to end next fall I should probably think of returning to ante-bellum pursuits and ambitions; if it lasts for a couple of years longer and if I am spared it is impossible to say what I shall do. So that there is a fearful uncertainty about the future which inclines me to grasp eagerly at the present. In the second place this uncertainty being the case it hardly seems fair to deny Fern a happiness which she seems to eagerly desire, for the sake of a future career which is more than shadowy. I have an idea that if I wished to continue law, I could get an appointment on the University staff and continue my studies and earn a living at the same time. So that I had almost made up my mind to let Fern come over if a favourable opportunity presented itself.

Having eliminated my own side of the equation there is of course Fern and its effect on her to consider. Sometimes I think I shall have my leave deferred a month or so and bring her over, and then again it seems foolish and almost unkind to let her come away from friends with the prospect of only seeing me once every two or three months Just to let her be theoretically "nearer to me" as she says. Then the spring operations will be opening and I sometimes think it would be better to see what they bring forth, and that again is trusting to an uncertain future for me. One thing only would seem to make her better off if we were married--that is despite any eventualities--she would have my pension if anything happened to me.

No doubt these arguments are disjointed but they will serve to show you dear ones the doubts and fears which beset me. If you can, in the light of experience and a certain detachment - looking from the outside in - give me any useful advice or give Fern any useful advice. I shall love you for it. I asked Fern to speak to you about it but she is rather shy in confidences and perhaps she hasn't.

A perfect marvel has happened. A box of apples has just arrived all untied but without an apple missing. I'll take back everything I ever said about the P.O.C. I never expected to see those apples and having been praying nightly that they would choke someone with a nice bomb-proof job down at the base. They are in good condition and by George they taste good! This must be the second box I think; the first one probably broke open earlier in the journey and the temptation was too great for someone. Many thanks to Aunt Maddie. I hope she is feeling well. Give her my love.

Well, dear hearts, I hope you will let me know your ideas as soon as possible. I have discovered that a subaltern actually at the front can get separation allowance on receiving his C.0.'s permission to marry, which means $30 per month. So Fern would have plenty, as my expenses oat here are very light. However that is only a circumstance and not the main issue.

Heaps of love to Mally and Kae and to you all a glad New Year.

Yours lovingly,

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