just got your letter as we were leaving Hursley Camp for the
other side. You must understand that to move a division is a
long and tedious job. They started at noon on the 4th and the
Mx [Middlesex Regt.] did not leave till 3 a.m. the following
morning. We had a ten mile march to --- and in the wee a.m. hours
loaded for active service. It is not the fun it looks. We went
on board at 9 a.m. but did not start till 10 p.m. the same night.
The boar was very poor and very small, and only meant to carry
cattle, so you can see that the men did not fare very well. The
officers even had very poor accommodation, and our servants cooked
on the deck for us. We were at a rest camp at the base, (the
name of which I cannot give you) for one day and two nights.
It was just fine to get away from the wretched boat. We left
the rest camp on the Sunday morning and started on the long train
journey to railhead, being still in the same country. We arrived
here on the Monday night. We went into billets near the station,
the men in barns with nice thick straw floors so they were comfortable.
The officers are billeted with different people in the town.
I was very lucky as I have a beautiful double bed and can get
a wash every day. The a.m. I put out some socks for my servant
to wash, and before I knew it Madame had done it for me. The
people are awfully decent as the English saved the town, and
they are very thankful and help us immensely. All day long and
all through the night we hear the roar of the cannot. They are
very close but we have not as yet experience any chance Jack
Johnsons or coal skuttles. The ambulances go out each day at
10 a.m. to pick up the nights bag and return at 11 a.m.
so you see we are not far from the front. I expect tomorrow will
see in the trenches as we are a brand new division, and the English
have been faring none too well I believe, most of the wounded
have got it in the head and arms, as the trenches protect the
rest of the body, and the trick now is to dig in oneself every
foot of the way until the war is over.
have long conversations with Madame and find it quite easy to
make myself understood, but I have to make her speak slowly,
as when they get going there is no stopping them.
have never felt better in my like as one gets lots of hard work,
we had an 8 mile march this morning. The grub is bully beef,
jam biscuits and cheese. Instead of a great coat, which is very
heavy, I am taking a Burberry lined with Jaeger blanket, it is
so light I carry it in a ruck sack on my back. Tonight will be
the last I expect that we will see our valises, so the fun is
only starting. When you write send (it) to the address below
and Chance & Hunt will forward as they have my address. Mr.
Hughes was awfully decent to me while in London and he is a fine
chap. I was very lucky in getting out with this battalion, as
they were filled up with Reserve Officers, but when I told the
Colonel what training I had done he gave me a job right way.
The officers are most awfully decent, and we manage to have a
good time. I think I am the first one of our bunch [Canadians
who took ship to England to enlist immediate news of the impending
conflict broke] that came over to get to the front, in fact I
am sure of it, as a great many are to come with Ks [Lord
Kitchener] new army in the winter. The weather here is not very
cold, a bit we and very windy. I did not think it would be long
before Leonard was in it. The chaps here call me Columbus as
he was supposed to have discovered America.
we are going to have chicken for dinner which Madame has managed
to get from goodness knows where, as this Town is practically
destitute of food from all the troops passing through. I have
just head that 2 regiments of our Brigade have gone off to the
trenches so I think we will follow soon. Please pass this letter
around the family as I will not have time to write much after
this. We have seen many German prisoners, all old men and boys.
There are all sorts of troops here - Arabs, Foreign Legion, Indians,
Turcos, Belgian, French, and Gascon, heavy dragoons, and to-day
a train of naval siege guns passed. We are all cheery and in
the best of spirits.
is Sunday and a very wet day, snow and rain and sleet and all
the streets are covered with mud. We arrived here yesterday from
our last billets, and we are very comfortable in a shop keepers
house. Most of the inhabitants have fled, and the roads yesterday
were thick with refugees. The town itself was shelled last week
and in spots is in an awful mess. Yesterday as we were moving
from our last billets we say a German aeroplane drop t bombs
and immediately a British one appeared and tore after it. This
Town is so near the line that the men have to remain indoors
for fear of observing aeroplanes, as the Gs would surely
shell if they knew we had so many men in the town. Three of us
went for a walk yesterday out to our trenches. We passed two
of our batteries in action, and they were having rather a hot
time of it, so we kept under cover until we passed them. Further
on we came to a village, a complete wreck, and not a soul in
it. To show you what dirty tricks the Gs use, yesterday
a British type of machine passed over us flying the Union Jack.
They dropped light over us and in about 3 minutes a house about
100 yards away was absolutely knocked to pieces with 8 shrapnels
and a J.J. We were right in the midst of it before we realized
what was up. After 5 minutes of this we cleared out. It seems
the aeroplane had spotted our cavalry entrench around this house,
and given their guns the line to fire on. Their shrapnels are
very pretty, all different shades of green, ours are yellow and
white. The guns were going all night, a fearful row, but after
yesterdays experience they did not fizz on me at all, and
I slept well in this comfortable billet.
are going into the trenches to-night, which the W. Yorks and
Devons are in now. Some of the W. Yorks wounded have just come
in. They were pretty badly cut up last night. I am sending this
to Mr. H so that he me may read it and forward it to you. My
signature is an arrangement with him. I am well and having a
glorious time. Next week we are going to the hottest place on
the line. Dont worry.
my last letter we were going into the trenches on Sunday evening,
so I will go on from there until now.
advanced at 4.30 p.m. (dusk) and at 10 p.m. were shelled as we
got near the line. The Gs found us by means of a star shell
and magnesium bombs. We kept on however and got into the trenches
without any casualties. All that night my platoon dug trenches
and we were constantly sniped at by spies and jaegers who
are a sort of riflemen. All Monday was quiet, although our flanks
were heavily shelled and many casualties resulted. On Monday
night at dusk they attached in force 3 times we beat them off
each time. They were allowed to advance to our entanglements
only 35x by 50x [the writer's symbol for yards] in front and
were mown down, leaving many wounded and killed. We had very
few casualties, two in my platoon. We were relieved at 2 a.m.
Tuesday and got to the billets at 5.30 a.m. turned out at 8 a.m.
and had a 16 mile march to other billets where I got your letters
Tuesday night. After having had no sleep since Saturday and only
bully beef and biscuits, a good meal and a good bed and letters
from home were a perfect paradise. Yesterday, Wednesday, we moved
here to the billet which has been shelled every day and there
are spies and snipers all over who pot at you If you move outside
by day, so everything is very lively. The inhabitants have all
fled. The Germans have left the place in an awful mess, all windows
broken. We hang around the stove as it is snowing outside and
beastly cold. The long march on Tuesday under the conditions
was awful. Some of the soldiers were kids, and I was thankful
of being a bit bigger and stronger than some people. I am well
and having a fine time. Enjoying it all.. We will be here for
2 days more and then to the trenches for 3 days and then back
here for 3 days and so on all winter so I am told.
night when we came into our billet there was a large packet of
Canadian mail for me which I was awfully glad to get and to hear
that you are well and enjoying life, but you are not the only
ones as these last four days have been so chuck full of amusing
incidences as to make this life the finest of all.
Saturday we marched to a town 2 miles from the line, on Sunday
dusk we marched forward to occupy the trenches and were shelled
quite nonchalantly, and the men all laughed so you see the spirit.
My platoon dug trenches all night and the Germans only 250 yards
away and it raining and sleeting. It was just damnable and cold.
On Monday all day we were rather quiet except for many snipers
and a battery 700x to our front. On Monday night at dusk we were
attacked in force twice and repulsed them with heavy loss. We
let them come within 30x and 60x and then rapid fire did the
trick. We piled up an awful score of them and could hear them
groaning all night. My platoon had rather a merry time of it.
It happened like this. The Gs had broken through our trenches
before the Mx [Middlesex Regt.] occupied them and 30 or 40 had
dug themselves in just behind it. We did not know this but when
the attack on Monday night commenced they gave us a hot time.
It was both sides at once, but they are rotten shots. Only one
man of mine was hit, but they tried desperately for me, having
marked where I was in the trench by day. One sniper was only
30x away, and was too close for comfort, so I gave him my automatic
full in his direction and heard no more from him that night but
the others kept up a continual jabber all night, but we dont
mind them any more than flies. It is the gun fire. It is uncanny
their accuracy and perfect hell. We were relieved at 2 a.m. in
the rain, and we heard in the morning that these people were
shelled out during 2 to 3 a.m. so we just missed it. We marched
back three miles to billets mud half knee deep all the way. On
the way I was leading the Company and a shell burst between me
and the Major 5 yards behind me; but as it was a perfect burst
the cone was forward; but the both of us fetched up beside a
fence from the concussion. I wish would not tell mother what
I am telling you as she will probably be unduly alarmed, but
it is all the game and we have to take what is coming to us.
To continue we got to billets Tuesday a.m., marched 16 miles
from 8.30 a.m. the same day which was awful on the men as some
are mere kids and have packs. We got fine billets (Tuesday) and
it was there I got all your letters after a good meal and prospect
of a good sleep in bed, having not had a wink since Saturday.
Today we advanced to another billet which was shelled all day
and the village is an awful mess. The spies are sniping at us
all the time. They are the jaegers, and regular devils for cunning.
The house we are in is in an awful state, the Huns having been
here and broken everything and left piles of broken bottles and
smashed crockery and furniture. I expect we shall be shelled
again tonight. The Germans artillery shoot by compass bearing
entirely I believe and telephone communication with spies making
the shooting awfully accurate.
hear the trenches we are going to are awfully comfortable and
shell proof, which will be fine as our last were awful, entirely
open, full of mud, no weather protection or wire entanglements.
We were soaked through all the time and it was as cold as blazes.
I thanked my stars in the long march Tuesday without sleep of
food that I had a good constitution as some of my men were all
in absolutely, for myself I did not feel it much beyond being
hunger. The same day a German aeroplane attached us and wounded
six in the transport and then a British appeared and it was fine
to see him take the German on. He came along fast and above him
and then cut loose with his maxim and the Hun replied. It was
fine for us to see it. The Hun eventually got away. It was a
Taube and quite fast.
the same spot that the shrapnel burst on Tuesday morning in which
I nearly cashed in, 3 regiments lost man men that morning about
1 a.m. in returning from the trenches. My Major told me that
the General had especially asked who the officer was i/c of trench
digging on the night we took up the W. Yorks trenches, which
was yours truly. What it means I dont know. I hope it is
not a cadging. My feet are lasting well and I have no trouble.
The Jaeger helmet is invaluable also the cholera belt. The two
pair socks dodge also first class. I hear from Division 1 paper
reports that Canadians are coming soon. The Indians cannot stick
this winter I dont think.
think of coming over here for the war, the strain of trench work
is only for the young bloods. All our older officers were absolutely
all in from our last experience. You can do more by staying at
home and help recruiting as it will be a long war. We are going
into these trenches here so they tell us for the winter. The
cavalry are all entrenched and the horses parked on L of C for
the Arty, [Artillery lines of communication] which is constantly
on the move.
my last few days letters will probably all arrive at the same
time as the mail collection here is very irregular on account
of being so near the front. As yet we have not been shelled in
these billets. We hear the German guns have all gone bad, and
there has been hardly any firing from them the last few days.
We are here until tomorrow night, from then we will be in the
trenches three days then come back here for three days, and so
on through the winter. The snipers have ceased somewhere as we
had a heavy snow storm and they show up awfully easy, but there
are still many in the barns round about.
weather is very cold and raw but I dont feel it like most
of the chaps. The Tommies dont have much fun as the winter
clothing has not yet arrived but there is no grousing from them.
This afternoon I rode into a large town 2 miles away to purchase
some extra grub for us such as bread, eggs, and condensed milk.
have had several casualties from our last engagement but I expect
they will be filled up from our first reinforcements soon. This
morning we were making fascines for the trenches. The Germans trenches
are only 25x in front of the Devons., just think of it 25x. It
is simply extraordinary, but I assure you it is the truth.
life I think is the finest there is and I enjoy it every minute
although we have many hardships, especially this cold weather.
You Canadian news is very interesting. We need all the men we can get. The
cavalry are all in the trenches. Aeroplanes are our only methods of reconnaissance
also infantry, patrols and cyclists.
the rest of the firing line we know nothing, hearing no news
practically, so you know more than we do in that respect.
I think that a pair of larrigans with two or three pair of socks will be the
most comfortable things for the winter, boots are absolutely no use. Last time
in the trenches I had two pair of socks on and the trenches being wet and cold
, and not being able to move, it was simply awful.
found and abandoned French automobile behind our billet the insides
being all taken out. I hunted round yesterday afternoon and found
all the pieces and put it together, and was waiting for the first
MT [motor transport] to pass to get some gas and the RE chaps
came along and hooked it from me when I was on parade. The CO
said I could have it if I fixed it up.
are back in billets again for three days having been in the trenches
the last three. Nothing very exciting happened as we have taken
the defensive generally for the centre so it is simply a sit
tight job for some time unless the situation changes.
were shelled all day yesterday but no casualties. On Monday C.
M. Harvey, on of the lieutenants in my Company and a sterling
chap, was killed by a sniper. We are all feeling cut about it
as he was a prime favorite.
snipers are the very devil. My platoon had rather a hard time.
Our trench ran at right-angles to the general line, to a farm
house into which the Germans were, so we were only 40x from them,
and all nigh long these Jaeger snipers kept potting away from
the roof, although our artillery constantly pounded them. There
were a great many in rear also in hollow trees and hay stacks.
The W. Yorks caught one running across a field wrapped in a sheaf
of straw and promptly did him up. We caught two in our billet
this morning and there is no shrift for them at all. The nights
in the trenches are awful. No room and cold as blazes, so that
is why I asked Mr. Hughes to cable you to send me a pair of larrigans,
which will be excellent with several pairs of socks as they are
chap and myself have just come back from -- a mile away which
is all in ruins. We borrowed a couple of lamps and oil there
as every shops open and one can walk in and take anything. We
could have brought some beautiful things but being in a friendly
country one does not feel the same in taking valuable things.
were sniped at from a house and soon took cover, but having foolishly
not taken any fire arms it was no advisable to chase the brute
up. The women here are just as bad as the men and one get awfully
chary of everyone one meets. I am writing to Mills & Co.
of Kingston [Kingston, Ontario] for a pair of fur gloves and
a cap and will take the liberty of telling them to send the bill
churches, hospitals, and houses in the large towns near here
are all in the same state. Simply walls and blackened stones.
It will take years to set right all the damage done.
cannot conceive, lining at home where all is quiet what a way
like this means. Wholesale destruction and damaging things for
the mere love of striking terror seems to be the one idea of
the Germans. The inhabitants in some of our past billets have
told us the most hear breaking stories of the cruelty and rotten
practices that the Germans have done as they as they occupied
all this country after the retreat in August. I have no trouble
in conversing with the people in fact I am getting quite fluent,
much to the amusement of the rest of the chaps. They all say
that they wont let me leave the regt. although I havent
said a word about it.
can imagine that you are awfully fed up with things as you said
in your letter that all the chaps were leaving, but I think that
if you were here you would not enjoy it very much, especially
as we are to sit tight until the Russians do the trick I believe,
and the trenches in the trenches are awfully uncomfortable, but
we dont grouse a bit, although everyone thinks a lot of
the good time we will have when this is over to make up for what
we are missing. Nobody, or very few are carrying swords now.
They are practically useless sin the trenches. The trenches are
only 18 wide, to prevent (the) effect of shell fire and
Jack Johnsons. At --- a week ago I had a glorious opportunity
of seeing the effect of JJs. The Battn. [battalion] On our right
150x away was heavily shelled and several of the JJs passed over.
When they break the noise is terrific, and huge clouds of black
smoke and dirt are thrown up. Once landed in the Dorsets
trench and of course killed all in it about I believe.
Hughes sent my this notepaper which is most welcome. Mother sent
me a clipping of the graduating class of RMC [Royal Military
College, Kingston, Ontario] and also Hales enclosure in
your letter. It is hard to believe that all but seven are or
will be over here but I think it is splendid and I dont
regret taking a commission a bit. It is a glorious life and we
have a glorious time but we are all eager for a good dust up,
for as yet it has been simply waiting to be attached and we got
that last week in the other country.
you get that little automobile flag affair for the radiator of
the motor which I sent from London about 6 weeks ago?
men in this regiment are awfully fine. Recruited from the dives
of London and disciplined abroad and make spanking soldiers.
Out chief trouble is with the Reservist of whom we have some
100 in the battalion. To show you how nonchalant they are yesterday
in daylight two slipped out of the trench on my left flank into
this farm I spoke about before where the Gs were only 20x
away and brought back two chickens and a peacock and armfuls
of wood and were fired on all the time without a hit. They though
it a grand lark. The poultry was very good when cooked but very
you want to give me something of great use for Xmas a watch would
be excellent. My wrist watch has absolutely gone west owing to
several times being soaked in rain and much and one wants to
know the time at night in the trenches. A luminous face is not
good as the light in the day time in the winter here is hardly
strong enough to kept it luminous. We only have 8 hours of light
and havent seen the sun for days. What I though was a watch
with a chime in or something similar to be carried in the tunic
pocket with a strap this protecting it from the mud, but a chime
watch is so frightfully expensive. Besides you might pick up
something which you think would be better and cheaper.
are now three out of four permanent battalions of the Middlesex
are on active service. In all there are 15 battalions, three
in Ks army and the rest territorials all abroad. It is
the largest regiment in the British Empire, but of course the
permanent battalions are the best of the 15.
believe the 9th Division is at our old camp at Winchester and
the Canadians will not be here until January although Sir John
in a dispatch to the field forces last week said, We hope
soon to welcome the Canadian troops and are sure they will acquit
themselves true sons of the Empire. I thought it rather
are back in billets again after three days and nights in the
trenches, and last night we had a glorious sleep in the farm
house floor and a good wash this morning,, so we are all feeling
very much elated. Nothing very exciting happened in the trenches.
One of the officers in my Company C. M. Harvey was killed on
Monday by a sniper. He was an awfully sterling fellow and was
loved all through the battalion, so we miss him fearfully.
weather has been very cold and snowy and the nights in the trenches
were awful. No fires and very cold and dark from 4.30 p.m. till
7 a.m. Some of the men suffered terribly.
trenches are very narrow so that one cannot keep warm however
many clothes one wears. We all thought of the good times we would
have when the war is over and how comfortable and warm all the
people we know are. I dont feel the cold as much as most
of the chaps. We were shelled all day yesterday with no casualties.
The snipers are awfully active and extremely bold, at night they
pot you from all sides and have got a great many of our men.
My section of trench was only 30 yards from the Germans and they
got in an old barn and potted us all the time, although our artillery
constantly shelled them. On Monday night we heard the Germans
singing Meine Lukshe Edelweiss in harmony. It was
awfully pretty. In the day time they signaled hits and misses
with a shovel like we do on the ranges in peace time.
love this life although it has many ups and downs and the other
officers are prime chaps. We caught two spies hidden in the barn
in a billet this morning. The country is overrun with them and
they collect heaps of information so when we catch them there
is not much shrift for them.
hear there is a good supply of warm clothing coming out. It will
be appreciated by the men. Our last billets were shelled ? hour
after we left them and we dont know when we shall have
to take to the fields here as the German artillery is magnificent
in long-range shooting.
mentioned Genet coming out. I dont think he will ever see
the front, nor will the 2nd Canadian contingent. The first will
are rumour has it that the Indians who are on our right cannot
stick the winter and the good old Canucks can. The Indians have
put the Germans in an awful funk with their kukris.
are having fresh meat today, the first for a long time. In our
last billet it had been occupied by the Germans and the place
was simply awful. There wasnt a house with a square yard
undamaged,. Churches, hospitals, houses everything simply bits
of the walls standing and the roads are crowded with refugees
with small bundles of clothes and valuables.
will take years to rebuild this country. Everything of any value
has been taken by the Germans and the atrocities the people tell
us are unbelievable.
am getting quite fluent in the language and have no trouble in
making myself understood, although my grammar is awful I know.
We are all longing for a good hand to hand scrap with the wretched Germans.
To sit in trenches as we will all winter is not a very interesting occupation.
November 1914 (received in Canada 21 December 1914)
your letter of the 8th November last night. You mention having
very few of my letters. Well I assure you I write every possible
opportunity, but we are a long way from the railhead and being
in the trenches so much the mail collection s is very irregular.
However they are bound to turn up in due time.
last two days C Company in which I am has been in the Reserve
trenches and they are very comfortable. Lots of straw and completely
covered, so we get lots of sleep and there is a farm a few hundred
yards away where we purchase milk, butter bread and eggs, and
they are highly appreciated, although we pay ridiculously high
prices. Live well while you can is our motto because in the advanced
trenches it is bully beef and biscuits with no variation, and
very little water. The difficulty now is to get supplies up to
them from Headquarters with the reserve trenches. We lose men
every night at this game and it falls to the reserve Company
to do it. It is so cold we take coke and charcoal with us and
a man with a sack of this on his back makes a fine target in
a trench to a sniper, of which the country is infested. These
snipes are apparently civilians, and they get a bounty from the
Huns and especially for officers. When we catch we simply shoot
on sight. Last night I had rather an amusing time. I had charge
of a relief of 60 men for digging trenches for communication
with an advanced trench. Starting out after having gone 50x from
the reserve one man was hit. I went back to bind him up and was
sniped at from a haystack 40x away. I sent two men to nail the
brute and went on. We dug for a couple of hours in the pouring
rain and could hear the Germans talking in their trenches. The
rain stopped and the moon came out from a cloud, and there we
were digging in a light almost like day They soon stopped us
and for a few minutes it was quite lively. The land is all turnip
fields and it is surprising the cover that one turnip will give
one. I never realized it till last night. Their machine guns
are the very devil and their artillery has a habit of dropping
shells promiscuously on crossroads and houses for no reason at
all at odd times during the day and night, so that one gets very
canny of such things.
my last letter I think I mentioned the farm on the left of my
trench. The REs blew it up the night before last and I hope it
will cause no more trouble. If you are cute and have a good map
you can find where I am in the next sentence, provided the censor
lets it go through. Leave any very extra news till I entrain.
Did you get it?
snow has all gone, but the mud is awful. Haven't had my feet
dry now for two weeks, but two pair socks are invaluable. We
have had about 15 casualties but many have been sent back for
sore fee and tummy ache. The boots that the men have are rotten
and many have only one pair of socks. But even with it all there
is very little grousing.
had and awful experience the other night on leaving the advanced
trenches. It was on Nov. 24. I was guiding the F. Yorks in as
we were leaving. We had some 150x to my platoon and when two
ranks of men with their packs on are in a 2 trench imagine
the jam. Coming back I couldnt get past, and all the time
my platoon was moving away. Finally I got up to the head of it
and found my Sergt. Absolutely roaring drunk, having charge of
the rum bottle and all my other NCOs were in hospital. Finally
I manage to get the all out safely but I left him behind.
day the aeroplanes are over us and we see some exciting duels
and hear their maxims potting one another. The German guns dont
see to do much damage but it looks pretty to see a plane tearing
along with little cotton puffs popping up all around it. Our
heavy howitzers gave the Huns an awful pounding last night. They
were bursting on the trenches just in front of us.
wouldnt worry a bit about not being here if I were you. I think
we will be here for some time and there isnt much fun sitting
tight in a trench in this weather. The recent Russian victory may
change things, but, we shall see soon. I heard from an airman that
the Huns are massing around --- and going to make another shot for
the coast, but we are also massing here. I wish you could see us,
simply covered in mud, havent had a wash or shave or been out
of our clothes for about a week.