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Date: March 21st 1917
Beulah Bahnsen (wife)
Ralph Watson

21 March, ’17.

My Ownest Lal: —

I am writing this on my knee by an old oil can which has been made into a stove in one of the familiar huts away down along the line — for again I have been sent out as S.B. for a working party.

This morning, I got my orders to come and relieve a man who has been out here some time. So I packed up my belongings, few as they are, and set out on my hike. I hadn’t much to carry, the steel helmet and gas mask being the heaviest items, I guess. I got a loaf of bread, a tin of jam, a can of beans and some cocoa, so I wouldn’t starve. It was a cold day and snowing a bit. Shortly, however, I hit a stalled motor lorry, and got a lift a good part of the way. I soon found the party’s billets in a hut right next the Y.M., and found the other S.B. He had fixed things up for himself some, had a little table affair with a real drawer, and had collected a good stock of medicine from the adjacent field ambulance. His bed looked real cosy in the middle tier of bunks. I took it all over from him, and have now settled down. He has just gone and supper will soon be here — and the boys in. It looks like a fine job, if it lasts.

I act as M.O. absolutely, and am responsible. In this case, I don’t go out with the work party, but stay in the hut. Sick parade is at seven, when I see which men should go in the field ambulance and see the doctor. Any man who gets hurt out on the work they send for me. The rest — the cough medicines, binding up cuts, and so forth — I do here at night.

Next day.

Went to bed early. My predecessor certainly left things jake. He has four blankets and a rubber coat. At the head of the bed, he’d rigged up an old biscuit tin which makes a swell candle stand. It was as cosy as could be (you will note I still turn in early to read).

Sometime during the night, I was wakened up by a battalion coming in to sleep in spare bunks. They had just come out of the trenches — been in ten days — and were coming out for a ten days’ rest. They had no blankets, and it was snowing hard outside; but I never heard a kick. Guess they were too glad to be “out.”

The last time I saw this well-known battalion was on review at Shorncliffe. I remember how well they looked, every kilt swinging in line. I’d like you to see a battalion come out fresh from the line. You wouldn’t believe it. The Scotch cap had given place to the steel helmet and the kilts to trousers and puttees — what you could see of ’em for mud. Though they only arrived about one or two A.M., their Field Kitchen at seven A.M. had hot tea, bacon and bread, and jam and cheese for them, so good is the system, and it never breaks down. . . .

The only thing I fear is the weather, the wet, the cold, the long nights and the mud — not the shells, though I guess I’ll fear them enough later.

And every day spent here means nearer the warmer weather. . . .

You will be tremendously impressed with the big retreat — many seem to think it very smart of Fritz making us begin all over again; but I think it is not thoroughly understood. It is a retreat — that’s the main thing.

Understand writing is always most difficult now. Sitting on gasoline tins round a wee brazier made out of an oil can — it’s almost impossible, but I’ll do my best.

Original Scans

Original Scans