4 April, ’17.
My dearest Lal, —
Yesterday I was out to see my old friends where I had been working, and where I wrote you from. While there the runner came in and said there was a small draft of soldiers going up to the 29th. There are plenty of men here now, as a big truck came up from the base a couple of days ago.
On the way home — it was a glorious spring evening — I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t wait to be put on a draft, but put myself on. It seems to me that this business of dodging drafts is getting overdone — I mean by the men who have never been up. When a man has been up and come back recovered from wounds, I don’t blame him a bit for trying to dodge going up till some of the new bunch have had to go. So when I reached town, I went and saw B. who is making up the draft. He had the list full, but took a man off and put me on.
So now, you know. On Sat. — “I parti pour la tranchay,” and I feel all excited.
I am busy sewing holes in my trousers, putting buttons on, and so on. I have very little to pack, but I have lots of odd wants in the way of equipment to get, my rifle to get in condition again, and all that. We have an O.C. inspection at ten A.M. Sat., and then off we go. I feel awfully well, and as keen as mustard.
I don’t know what you will think of my decision; but I hope you will approve. It is much better to go than wait to be sent, when it looks as if you had been hanging back.
Just before Easter. Evening.
I am finishing this off in bed. It’s impossible to sit up in bed, or my head hits the next bunk; but I’m managing rather well, have got three candles on my tin hat and my pack makes a fair desk. It’s quite warm in here tonight. We captured an extra big oil drum today, and have made a swell stove. It’s just at the end of my bunk; the pipe runs out through a door. Every thing is very primitive. I’m living right down to brass tacks now. My kit consists of only the very barest necessities: two pairs of socks, no change of shirt. Even at that, it’s enough to look after, and pack away at a second’s notice. As things are here now, kit is very plentiful, as fellows just leave everything behind when they move. I wear your woolen hat, a pair of high rubber boots (worth about twenty bucks this weather) and long rubber cape. When I go, I’ll just leave it behind.
A 29th Sgt. friend of mine, has just pulled in with another working party, and tells me I have to be “the doc.” to their party too. That’s alright. I like it. I’m “the doc.” to everybody. As a matter of fact I am more conscientious and go to ten times more trouble under these conditions than I would if I had some one over me.
I hear again that our battalion is away over strength, so I guess, if I’m lucky, I’ll miss the first big battle, which will be the hardest of course. You may or may not know that Imperials took the brunt of the Somme. When the Canadians got there, it was more open fighting, though God knows it was bad enough.
This time, unless I am mistaken, the Canucks are going to open the game; but it’s going to be very, very different from the Somme in many ways. All the way back here, the ground is marked out with tapes and flags, arranged according to our pictures exactly as Fritz has his trenches in front of the particular battalion which will take that section. So, if the officers get killed, the men know just what to do. The battalions have been made familiar with them. I have been over some of them; they seem very complicated. Fritz must know what’s coming. As far as I can see, we don’t give a damn whether he knows or not. White tents are dotted in the fields all over here, and he’s up in the air all the time. Last year, too, the green envelopes were cut out — remember? Not this year, though; I got an issue yesterday.
We are going to give him a tremendous licking right here, I am absolutely sure of it; every tiniest detail is perfect. The men are splendid — no sick.
The battalions even shine up their brass work now, and are all over strength.
The guns and supplies are beyond anything ever known before in any battle in the world. The food is plentiful and good.
Confidence is absolutely the limit — Every one is laughing and cheery as a lot of kids.
You must try and understand now that it is harder for me to write even scrappy stuff like this, than great long letters before. We must leave psychological questions till this is over now. I cannot bother to figure on things like what may happen after I get home.
Please send parcels regularly, little ones and frequent. Socks, a shirt (we never get a bath now, there is nowhere to bathe), cake (no candy), a towel, soap, a can of café au lait, half a pound of butter, if you think it would keep. . . .
And now I must quit. My shoulder is about dislocated, and my left arm is asleep. The man in the top bunk has gone to bed and the wire netting has sunk on to my head, so you’ll forgive me, eh?
Tell Billie Dad is thinking about her all the time, but cannot say much about her just now.
I am wonderfully well, absolutely great, and jake all round, and, with everybody, keen and hopeful of the future, and just tickled to death every day that I have left the base and am here doing a really bit.
As regards my wee personal interest in it all, it seems that my luck has been so wonderfully good all along that it must be going to stay with me. Let’s hope so.
Good luck, Kiddie. Don’t worry more than you can help.
It’s about nine-thirty or ten — I’ve just got up (active service), made our bed, which consists of folding up four blankets and a rubber sheet, swept the floor (we soon pinched a broom). The floor is six by eight feet so sweeping is not exactly a killing job. The debris, as it does in all of France I have seen, is thrown in the middle of the street to wait for a horse and cart to take it away. Of course we only live amongst the working classes and the peasants, but I have never yet seen water laid on in a house. There is a well or a pump somewhere down the street, usually surrounded by very dirty and very numerous children, many as young as four years old, with all kinds and conditions of pails and cans, usually far, far too big for them to carry. When you go to get a mess tin full, the majority of them clamour for “one cigarette” — “one pennee.” The very youngest little girls smoke cigarettes without their mother’s minding a bit. . . . I have yet to see a clean, fresh peach of a child. Of course you must have in mind this is war time, the people are dog poor, the men are away, the Germans are only three miles away. It is a mining district, and their houses are all occupied by “foreigners.”
The fire is going fine. We got some lovely coal last night (after dark), and we just had two swell pieces of toast. W. swiped a can of real butter from somewhere last night. I see it was made in a hermitage in Brittany. On the toast, I had Golden Syrup, a ration now, and a good one, too. Also a quart of strong tea, and now I feel all jake and comfy. A fellow gave me a package of “Old Chum”, rotten stuff, better than the issue. I’m smoking your pipe — the old one. The only thing wanted to make the running perfect is the newspaper, but neither Sergeant T. or your noble uncle possesses three ha’pence to buy one.
In a minute I’m going to fetch a tin of water, put it on the stove and have a jolly good wash and shave. I even shine my shoes on this job. Before I go to work at one, I shall try a captured Spanish onion in a mess tin of bacon fat, a present from a friendly cook, also some slices of real ham (not a present from any one), have another quart of strong tea, and a piece of cake which a fellow got from home and gave me last night. Tonight at seven, I shall have a full course dinner at the Officers’ mess at eleven o’clock. B. will have the bed down and a good fire left.
But remember; tomorrow, or the next day, or the next, my home may be a ditch, with a nasty German looking for my goat in another ditch only a few yards away. Sitting here in lazy comfort, it’s almost impossible — that war is all round and up in the air. If I were to walk out of this door far as from 77 to Central Station, then back, and repeat the distance — I’d be in Fritzie’s line.
Yet here I am in absolute comfort, with voices of women and kids on all sides.
No, I wasn’t on the draft — I thought that I wouldn’t be (I’m too valuable a man to send up).
Today there may be a letter. Always that’s the main thought of the day. And when that day’s gone, I always say, — “Well, there’s tomorrow soon here.”