Navigation links at the bottom of the page

Lieutenant Arthur L. Bishop, The Manchester Regiment

Lieutenant Arthur L. Bishop of The Manchester Regiment was among the first Canadian soldiers to serve on the Western Front. His family was living in Ontario.

Lieutenant Arthur L. Bishop
The Manchester Regiment

11 November 1914

I 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 night’s 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.

I 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.

I 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 K’s [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.

Tonight 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.

15 November 1914

This 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 keeper’s 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 G’s 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 G’s 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 yesterday’s experience they did not fizz on me at all, and I slept well in this comfortable billet.

We 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. Don’t worry.

19 November 1914

In my last letter we were going into the trenches on Sunday evening, so I will go on from there until now.

We advanced at 4.30 p.m. (dusk) and at 10 p.m. were shelled as we got near the line. The G’s 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.

20 November 1914

Last 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.

On 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 G’s 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 don’t 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 German’s artillery shoot by compass bearing entirely I believe and telephone communication with spies making the shooting awfully accurate.

We 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.

On 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 don’t 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 don’t think.

Don’t 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.

20 November 1914

All 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.

The weather is very cold and raw but I don’t feel it like most of the chaps. The Tommies don’t 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.

We 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.

This 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.

Of 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.

I 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.
Letter undated

We 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.

We 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.

The 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 also waterproof.

Another 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.

We 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 to you.

The 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.

You 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 won’t let me leave the regt. although I haven’t said a word about it.

I 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 don’t 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 Dorset’s trench and of course killed all in it about I believe.

Mr. 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 Hale’s 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 don’t 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.

Did you get that little automobile flag affair for the radiator of the motor which I sent from London about 6 weeks ago?

The 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 G’s 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 thin.

If 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 haven’t 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.

There are now three out of four permanent battalions of the Middlesex are on active service. In all there are 15 battalions, three in K’s 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.

I 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 fine.

25 November 1914

We 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.

The 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.

The 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 don’t 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.

I 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.

I 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 don’t know when we shall have to take to the fields here as the German artillery is magnificent in long-range shooting.

You mentioned Genet coming out. I don’t 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.

We 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 wasn’t 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.

It 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.

I 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.

29 November 1914 (received in Canada 21 December 1914)

Received 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.

The 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.

In 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?

The 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.

I 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 couldn’t 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.

Every day the aeroplanes are over us and we see some exciting duels and hear their maxims potting one another. The German guns don’t 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.

I wouldn’t worry a bit about not being here if I were you. I think we will be here for some time and there isn’t 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, haven’t had a wash or shave or been out of our clothes for about a week.
Back Next

Delta Tech Systems Inc
Duke of York's Royal Military School
Royal Hibernian Military School
Reminiscences of a Queen's Army  Schoolmistress
World War I letters and Reports
Books and Militaria
Publications and Papers
Wellington on Waterloo
Related Links

© A. W. Cockerill 2005

Site Map    Contact me