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Date: November 18th 1917
Henry Mercer (Richard's Uncle)
Richard Mercer

[transcription and footnotes have been provided by the collection donor]

Nov 18th 1917[148]

Dear Uncle Henry:-

I wrote you a few days ago while in a different hospital. I have been moved into a skin hospital with sceptic poisoning[149] from the gas[150] I think.

This is my address #25 General Hospital[151], E1.B France. I have ugly big scabs on my face and body but I am getting better since I have been here. My slight wound I had is practically healed up[152]. I don't think I shall make Blighty although I have a chance yet. I should like to spend Xmas over there. Hoping to hear from you soon.

With Love to All
Your Affectionate Nephew
911016 R.W. Mercer

[148] On this date the Borden Motor Machine Gun Battery war diary notes the following:
"The weather is Dull. In accordance with Operational Order #141 from 1st C.M.M.G. Bde. This battery left YORK CAMP at 12 Noon and proceeded to PERNES via HAZEBROUCK, ST. VENANT, LILERS arriving at 4:30 p.m." Pernes is back in France near the quiet sector in the Vimy-Lens sector. Their work at Passchendaele was done. For the final two weeks of battle over 15,000 Canadian soldiers were killed, wounded or missing in action. The Canadian death toll was over 5,000 with many bodies never recovered including Pte. Tom Tracy from Theodore. In total, over 458,000 casualties were incurred by both sides during this extended battle in the area of Ypres, Belgium. The strategic value of this loss of life and equipment is highly questionable. The final capture of the village of Passchendaele by the Canadians on 10 November 1917 had no material effect as had been strongly professed by General Haig. The debate regarding the unimaginable suffering from this battle and its merits continues to this day between the supporters and detractors of the English General Haig.
[149] The official medical records list the secondary hospital stay to treat a condition known as Impetigo which occurs when a break in the skin, such as one caused by a bug bite or a small scratch or scrape, comes in direct contact with Streptococcal or Staphylococcal bacteria. The disease spreads to others through direct body contact or through sharing of towels, bedding or clothes. The disease usually begins with a reddish spot or bump on the skin. Yellow pus accumulates and dries, leaving a honey coloured scab that can be itched. Generally not considered a serious disease, impetigo does need prompt attention to stop the spread of the infection to other people.
[150] The Germans used large quantities of mustard gas at Passchendaele and this gas caused serious skin burns. It was reasonable for Pte. Richard Mercer to assume mustard gas poisoning as opposed to a less common condition known as Impetigo.
[151] Pte. Mercer of the Borden Motor Machine Gun Battery was transferred from the14th General Hospital at Wimereux and treatment of "concussion W" to #1 Canadian Conv. Depot at Boulogne for treatment of impetigo. He is out of action until the end of the calendar year. A concussion from an exploding shell could literally split a man in half from the shearing power force of the impact of the air.
[152] The visible wounds were "only a few scratches in the head" plus the impact of the shell concussion on his body. The concussion lead to a life-long tremor of his neck owing to slight nerve damage to the neck. In addition, the silver cigarette case over his heart blocked a piece of shrapnel. In a later letter this fact is brought out by Bess Halsalls, a close personal friend to Pte. Mercer's mother Georgina, when writing to her. This personal letter would not be subject to military censorship and provided a much clearer and alarming set of facts for the mother reading it. Where her son Pte. Mercer made light of the event, the information from Bess Halsalls must have caused much more concern for Georgina Mercer. What other things were happening at the Front that her son couldn’t or wouldn’t tell her.