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Date: April 1917
Beulah Bahnsen (wife)
Ralph Watson

Don’t know the day but sometime in April — (ground covered with snow). We are in “Battle order” — no packs or blanket or anything.

My dearest Lallie: —

I have just spent the most gloriously comfy night possible tucked in a Heinie Officer’s dugout (and they are some palaces) and have just heard the joyful news we are going “out.” Consequently I am just delirious with high spirits. . . .

Lal dear, how I wish over and over and over again that I could tell you of all this. You know how interested I am in “things”, how I observe everything and immediately want to tell you of it. Yet — here I am, with so much to say, and can’t, because there is so much.

I have read, with you, all the big descriptive writers’ accounts of the “front line”, yet no one has ever even begun to show me it, no one can describe it. You must see it, live it, and live it as a private in the line. Some one has said — “nothing is unendurable because all has been endured.” That is true. I have worked till I thought surely it was impossible to continue, yet continued. I have lived through cold nights and wet and mud, and felt certain tomorrow would see me all in; yet I wasn’t. Only one thing is as I thought; I fear the wet and cold worse than the shells.

What shall I tell you? You don’t want to hear about narrow escapes, and shell fire, and all that stuff. It’s too common —

I’ll tell you of little things.

The first night “in” here, after the big battle, we took up positions way over Fritzie’s tenth or twelfth line. He was right to think Vimy Ridge untakable. It was. But a man can advance behind a shell curtain which does not leave a blade of grass (if there was such a thing) untouched. The enemy is bound to go to his dugouts, and as the curtain passes over him, all he has to do is to come out and surrender — those who are not buried. No one can blame Fritz for thinking we couldn’t take this place. Machinery did it, guns and mathematical planning, in this instance without a mistake.

But — s’nuff.

Since the day I left our little comfy base, I haven’t had a day from the Zone unless a dugout is “out of it.” Fritz isn’t bothering us such an awful lot; but he’s trying to get the advanced batteries and searching his old lines and roads all the time. Of course he knows the exact positions, and it’s trying.

The first night “in”, I honestly nearly died with cold. Next day I was wandering around and found a practically untouched officers’ dugout.

It’s the limit, all boarded up, with a sitting-room, and swell bunks with shavings for a mattress. I told others, and a pal of mine, young V.R.; and we moved in. It’s heavenly. The door faces the wrong way; but only a direct hit in the entrance could get us, and there are two entrances, so we could hardly get buried. R. and I with our two overcoats slept most absurdly comfortable; rations came up, even bread, and a letter from you, so we haven’t a complaint — particularly now as we hear we are going out tonight for a few days’ rest.  

Water is the only difficulty, as we have to get it out of shell holes.

Yesterday I came upon some typewritten orders of Heinies, and handed them in but I don’t expect a V.C.

From this Ridge or series of Ridges, we have a wonderful view: a plain for miles dotted with untouched villages in the distance. On my right and left are the batteries — one an eight-inch of Fritz’s own guns captured complete with ammunition dumps. These have been turned round and are pasting him night and day. It seems amazing that one can sit in safety fifty yards away, hear his shells coming and watch them burst round these batteries, knowing there is no need to worry — it’s not you he’s firing at. . . .

Did I tell you I actually found a Y.M.C.A. in a dugout in the very run of the advance. It’s the limit. Of course it was in a safe place, but just the same, it was well up. . . .

Do you know I wasn’t half so scared, that day (taking the pictures), as I was the day they put me on building the road over which they got guns into and down the Ridge. That was the devil of a job. The road runs down the side of the Ridge into the town and the valley below. Fritz hadn’t had time to destroy it; but our own shells broke it up a lot while the boys advanced. Some three or four thousand men were put on the job of fixing it up — in direct view of Fritz. As they explained; the “guns must be gotten there.” The holes were filled with anything at all. Old Fritz had had an engineers’ yard down below, and threw all his material into the shell holes any how. Even as we worked, the guns staggered through somehow; the road was littered with dead men — dead Heinies left behind — and men killed as we worked. No one moved them; there was no time. In the side or bank of the Ridge were his old dugouts. Every now and then we dived for these; but you couldn’t remain only a moment — the “guns had to be gotten through.” I was carrying a long pole with another fellow; right in front were four men with a big beam. A shell killed three of the men in front, and blew us two flat, pole and all. I sure thought we’d got it. We dived for a dugout, falling over a dead Heinie in the doorway — it was his late dressing station —now ours — and there was an M.O. calmly working on wounded as if he was in his surgery at home. Isn’t it hell that the fellows who really do the work won’t ever get the credit. One doctor sits safely at the base, another works right up; and no one at home knows the difference. However, we went back at last, and believe me I was tickled. I spent that night in a shell hole, and next day we went to the rear again.

No one knows where we are going, or anything.

Original Scans

Original Scans