12 July, ’17.
My dearest Lal, —
The time here is actually beginning to hang heavily. Though there is a whole battalion here made up of the men who have been left “out” for the trip — so many for each — there is nothing to do. We are in a tiny French village which at one time has been heavily shelled; but now never even gets attention from any aeroplane. “Revalley” is at 5.30. At 7.45 we fall in for a parade, and at 8.30 are finished for the day. There are hundreds of little villages and small towns around; but you don’t feel like walking places when you haven’t a cent. I guess a fellow has an awful nerve to kick while “out”, no matter what the conditions; just the same I am getting bored to death. In about a week or so this little place would look like a little heaven. The worst of these kinds of rest, you get thinking — thinking of the waste of time, and the damn foolishness of it all. Just imagine it! here’s me, a full private, the lowest pawn in the idiotic game, being played by a bunch of men you will never even see, who play from a position of perfect safety. For this I receive $1.50 a week to spend, the French people being careful to arrange a special scale of prices to relieve you of this magnificent sum tout suit. I have just had supper — a piece of bread one inch thick, about four inches square, a piece of cheese one inch square, and a pint of tea. I got this after standing in a line at least half an hour. When — if — I get home, I must begin my life over again from the beginning. If I get killed, the British Government, who is spending more than forty million dollars a day, will most carefully charge you personally for the blanket they bury me in.
If I hadn’t come, I would feel too cheap to live.
The only farseeing men have been those who have got themselves commissions in the Army Service Corps and things like that; nothing to do, a private clean your boots, better living conditions than they ever had at home, a certainty of eventually going home — and all the glory. Why in Hell couldn’t I have foreseen that? . . .
I see they have had another air raid over London — serves them damn well right. Could you believe there could be such men living as to have the nerve to stand up and decry reprisals. There are too many of these fat overfed swine all over the world who played Germany’s game. The pity is Fritz always seems to bomb the “East End” where the poor people live — ever notice that? Why doesn’t he ever bomb the palaces up “West”? Why? A good many people are wondering about a lot of things, these days. He’ll never raid that particular part of town. The pawns are the people. But the people are beginning to think. The papers hint it, the men out here say it openly. Air-raid reprisals are of course the only thing to do. If you are having a scrap with a fellow and he punches you in a place you thought he wouldn’t, do you merely try to look superior and just carry on with the scrap in your way? I guess not. Is this to be a fight to a finish, or merely an exhibition bout? However — I should worry. They won’t bomb Ottawa; and if it doesn’t do any other good, it will make the people think harder.
I suppose you read all the ghastly exposure about Mesopotamia. I notice several papers begin to wonder if things may not be something like that over here. Well, of course, I know nothing about the General Staff; but I do know something about the medical conditions, which over in Mesopotamia were so frightful. And no one need worry about conditions as they are on the Western front. After a man once hits the field ambulance, he is alright; if his life can be saved at all, it undoubtedly will be. The attention not only provides necessities, it includes luxuries, and the skill is of the very highest order. I guess that is why every one is tickled when he gets a “soft one.” No doubt the Sisters have a lot to do with this. From what I saw at Boulogne, I cannot imagine a more conscientious, hardworking bunch, nor can I see how that particular hospital could be improved in any way. It helps a lot to feel that you will get a fair deal, and everything will be done that can be done, when you are in the line, and Fritz is “handing out Blighties” rather liberally.
I feel all tickled about the medical end of the way my platoon will go into the line this time. It is my idea (and I am in my own mind convinced I have succeeded) to have it equipped to handle any sick and wounded the best of the whole battalion. As I have told you, it is most difficult and discouraging, trying to get supplies from the proper quarter. The suggestion is turned down that we should carry simple medicines in the line — like phenacetin, Cascara and like things. Obviously absurd — as a man goes sick and leaves the trench to go to the Dressing Station, when, if we carried the stuff, he could be treated right there on the spot. I have told you I am on good terms with all of our Company Officers, and I have explained all this and they agree. Again — another thing — the men like to feel that the S.B. is interested in the job and will carry all he can. Well, this trip, when just odd platoons were left out, and the M.O. was away, I made out a compendious list, got the O.C. and Adjutant to O.K. it, and beat it over to a field ambulance of a different division about ten kilometre away. And — got the whole works: ointments, spirits of ammonia — (to buck up fellows after being buried, etc.) pills of all sorts and everything. So now I go into the line with as good a kit as any advanced Dressing Station, and we’ll be the only platoon having such an outfit. I don’t mind the extra weight a bit. I am keen to make good on this thing, and it is all worth it. Also I am tickled about another fellow having joined us from the Taplow Hosp. He was wounded with the Battalion at the Somme last year, and while in Blighty was given a job in the Hosp. and learned a lot. Now he is back in my platoon, and I can call on him in a pinch for help. That makes three of us who can all give help in bad times. Of course the other two — H. and this fellow — carry rifles and are in the line like the rest. I am the only official one for that work. All through the bad times when Fresnoy was lost, I never had any help at all, and many times was at a loss; but now all is different. H. is my assistant, and takes my place if I get hit, and the other fellow is spare man.
So we are all fixed up and everybody is pleased.