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Date: July 15th 1915
Beulah Bahnsen (wife)
Ralph Watson

15 July, ’15.

It is all too vast to comprehend, as one has nothing to compare it with. . . .  On Sunday I saw several aeroplanes rise out of the hills at the back of here, and wing their way over to France. Only a few years ago, Lord Northcliffe paid fifty thousand dollars to the first man to fly over, and the fact was a world sensation. At H—— there are a fleet of automobiles that at a distance look just like ordinary grey machines till you get close. Then you see each is mounted with a high-angle gun. It all seems so out of place in these little quiet English lanes, all drowsing in the hot summer sun. The brambles are growing on the hedges just the same. The sheep dot the little green fields, and old women bustle around their little rose-covered cottages, everything just like it always is, — when all of a sudden a line of huge grey trucks goes tearing through the narrow lane, stirring up great clouds of dust, each machine with Canada painted on its grey side and a couple of Canucks, who have no notion what “speed limit” means, on the front seat. Inside may be anything from bread to guns. The natives don’t even look up from their work. No one even glances at marching men, or aeroplanes, or anything. All this is quite natural now. Suddenly you round a turn, and come on long, long, long lines of sweating, marching men in full kit, rifle, and everything — band in front. They are on a route march. Tremendous things they are, too, as two men who fell out and died last week could no doubt have testified, if they had lived. Sometimes these are undertaken at nights — unexpectedly. Near our camp are men without puttees, and with walking sticks. They are wounded convalescent. And away over on the other side are the big hospitals where the wounded are cared for. I don’t know how many there are of those; but one of our men who has been attached to the Medical Corps does nothing all day long but carry men on a stretcher from the operating tables to the long lines of ambulance cars which whizz them away to their particular quarters. He says the number is staggering. And all this is only in one wee corner of this affair.

There is nothing I suppose for me to tell you about the war. You know all the news at the same time as I do, and it’s less confusing. As I write, a man is sitting in the hut, a P.P.C.L.I., wounded in the legs. You may notice I mention the Patricia’s a lot. It’s because we are quartered next to them and so see a lot of them. Also, I still think they are the best outfit here.

The big trouble I have in describing things to you is that I have only hearsay to go by, and so far have only been able to talk to “single-idea men”, those who only talk of that which they themselves have done and seen, therefore narrow. It’s impossible to get a general idea. However I guess if I were there myself, I would be the same. I couldn’t get a broad idea, only seeing a limited view. One thing however is very, very certain — the trenches are Hell. No other word comes anywhere near describing it. One thing may help you to form an idea of the feeling in the trenches; the men play cards a lot, but they don’t take any trouble to finesse or play carefully. They bet all the money they have. When they are on leave, they spend all their money. Of what use, they say, is money to you? Of what use to think of the future? There isn’t going to be one.

Another thing: it would be very hard for you, I know, to realize that the Canadians are only a very tiny, tiny drop in all this ocean of ——? (Can’t find word.) What I mean is — you only hear of the Canucks, and England is intensely proud of them; but — they are nothing by comparison. My county, Yorkshire, has fifteen battalions of volunteers in France now — all volunteers at twenty-five cents a day.

What do you think of my going to the front? Perhaps to get promotion and really do something? I am slightly indifferent — that is, just at the moment. At other times, mostly when talking to men just come back or just going over, I want to be in it. But — also I want to be with you and Bill[1] again. You’d better hurry and say “go” or “stay.” Which? I’d sooner go under altogether than come back wounded. I’ve never yet seen a wounded man that looked as though he'd ever be good for anything any more. And that is a big thing to say, but it’s true. I hope I’m wrong.

Two weeks ago, we turned out hatless in the pouring rain to cheer a draft of Princess Pats on their way to the boat. Yesterday we heard they had been slashed to pieces, and now another draft must go.

It rains here every day — every day without fail. Some say it’s the bombardment over the Channel. I don’t know. Certainly — though I haven’t much to say for the English climate at any time — this surely is the limit. And cold! I freeze nearly every night with three blankets, and often have to get my overcoat on the bed to keep warm.

[1] The writer’s daughter.

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