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Lieutenant Wilfred Mavor

Lieutenant Wilfred Mavor of the 48th (Canadian) Highlanders arrived in the first Canadian contingent to the Western Front. Wilfred Mavor was the son of Professor Mavor.
Lieutenant Wilfred Mavor

22 March 1915

At last I have something really worth while telling you. I suppose you will have got my letter telling you of our arrival in France and they we were near the firing line. Well, since then we have moved up closer still and are in billets in a city in Flanders about 2 miles behind the line.

I have had two spells in the trenches each of 24 hours, The first time I went in with about 25 men who were each put with a British Tommy for instruction, and a British officer was detailed to instruct me. The second night I had my platoon in as a unit. I had a section of trench about 60 yards in length, 450 years from the German lines. The trenches where we were are in good shape the men being very comfortable in little dug outs made of wood and buried either on the enemy’s side of the trench or the other. The officers’ ones are a little better than the men’s, in some of them one can stand up. Sand bags are used a great deal and to very good effect as it is easy to repair trenches where they are used. The trench I was in was very well protected by barb wire and ditches in front. There was not much doing the days and nights I was in the line. The German snipers are at work all the time but don’t do much damage. The men amuse themselves by shooting at things that occasionally appear on top of the German trench. I was shooting at a brazier that I saw on top of a trench when after a couple of shots a German started to signal misses with a shovel. The only real danger is the going in and out of the trenches as it is often a very moonlight night and as in many cases the reliefs have to cross a sky line. In our case we came across high ground but had no mishap. The German reliefs apparently come in about the same time as the British so each stops firing so as not to draw the fire of the other. However, occasionally a machine gun sweeps the rear of the trench and reliefs get caught and have to take cover as fast as possible. The men we were with have been in these trenches off and on for three months and are fed up with the war in general.

It seems a great strain on the nerves waiting and waiting for an attack which never comes. Some of them have never seen a German and there has not been an attack for months.

I think this is, so to speak, another chapter in the book of training and that we will move somewhere else soon.

Am taking my platoon for a bath this afternoon which they need badly, including their officer.

I am feeling fine and in good health. Drunkenness in my men is the only thing that bothers me but I am getting rid of it now. I haven’t got a man under 5’ 10” which is not a great advantage in trench work.

I told you I think that Bob was left at the base: poor fellow he was very angry. Thank mother for the socks and Dora for the muffler. I will writer as often as I can but it is hard to find the time and the place.

A rather funny incident happened to me. I was with a British officer who took a piece of cake from a shelf in his dug out to offer me some, when we found a bullet buried in it.


12 March 1915

One forgets the days of the month and the hours of the day on a job like this. I will try to give you a really interesting letter this time but as I am my own censor and also that of my platoon, I have to be even more careful than if some one else were to read my mail. Since I last wrote, we have been on the move a great deal and have had some real excitement. On the 10th and 11th we took part as reserves, in probably the biggest engagement the world has ever seen, as the artillery of the whole British and French lines took part. In the early morning the whole line of artillery opened fire. It was the most wonderful row I have ever heard. It lasted for over an hour, then the machine guns started and the rifle fire. You will see about it no doubt in the papers. Before this my platoon had the pleasant job of supplying a company in the trenches with food, ammunition, wood, sand-bags, in fact everything including men. The Germans seem to have a special grudge against these parties and throw their searchlights and star shells on them. However my men are getting on to this game finely and can get into a ditch or mud hole quicker than most people. This was is not such a bad affair after all. With a reasonable amount of luck and common sense one can come through all right. The Germans seem to be good shots and are very sagacious. They are full of tricks and one never knows whom to trust. I was moving around in the dark the other night when a man came up to me and said, ‘Where are your headquarters?’ I could not see his face, so I said, ‘The same place as yesterday.’ The man grunted and seemed angry; but I head the Captain's voice in my ear saying ‘Quite right’. However he turned out to be an artillery officer.

The Germans shelled us pretty hard one day. They got the range of billet No. 1 company were in and dropped a high explosive into the room where we were sleeping a few hours before. Our second in command was having a bath in the next room. You would have laughed to see him hurry out *********** I have censored this myself. We are quite comfortable and well. We have all we want in the way of food and everything. I don’t think in the history of the world, troops have been so well looked after, baths are ready for us after our spell in the trenches and medical attendance is very easily got. Out hardest work is done at night and sleep is sometimes hard to get.

This and the much and wet are the only discomforts we have as yet, but I think we are going to get it hard pretty soon. I am sending you my sheet to keep for me as a souvenir from the Germans, and also a tobacco leaf for Jef. I hope the letter arrives so as not to scare you. We are such a small unit in this big affair that it is really easier for you to get information than for us; but I don’t know, I think this affair will not last long now.

I have just had a fine meal of fresh eggs and fine French coffee and milk. I have managed to get hold of the best batman (servant) in the regiment, at least I think he is. He is as tough as they make them and has no scruples at all but is as loyal and true to me as steel –- a regular Huckleberry Finn, but just the man for me. I never want for food or anything. At the time I ask him ‘Where did you get this Flaxman?’ I get as an answer, ‘Don’t ask no questions, sir.’ So I don’t. This is one of the fellows I have told you about. He reformed a great deal when I started boxing in the company.


28 March 1915

Got your letters dated 4th, 8th and 10th. They are very interesting and cheery.. as you say, it is very hard for us to get news of the war except from the paper which we get very seldom. The small part we play is so insignificant that what we do seems nothing. You will already have heard of the Neuve Chapelle affair. I have heard many stories about it and many reasons – well, I cannot honorable express m own ideas on the affair, being my own censor. We have just come out of the trenches and are having a few days’ rest. It is not very exciting in the trenches, there is very little firing and less shelling. The Germans seem more keep on sniping than we are, and a good deal better at it. However, for all their watchfulness, our Company came out without a scratch. My platoon is getting quite ‘foxy’ and the men are getting to be old veterans. ‘Keep you head low but be on the job when you are wanted’ is my motto and ‘keep you ammunition until you see something to fire at’. There is, in my opinion, a great waste of ammunition by men firing at objects they cannot see clearly. I have been out on patrols and got within as far as I could judge 35 yards of the German trenches. I have heard a sentry cough and spit: but I have not as yet seen a German either dear of alive and I must say frankly that I bear them no ill will and I think most of us are the same. If they hit one of our men we consider it a good shot and perhaps curse them a little but that is all. In places our trenches were within 200 yards of the enemy and both sides exchanged words.

‘Hock de Kaiser!’ (British) sic: - (probably mistake for German)

‘Come on over Fritz!’ (British)

‘Sing us Rule Britannia!’ (German) and expressions some of which I cannot put on paper. Let it be sufficient that the seem to have learnt some pretty nice slang from the ‘Tommies’.

Patrolling is about the only excitement we have and does not give much more of a thrill than shooting a rapid. It is not very dangerous unless you meet a patrol from the enemy or make too much row and excite the enemy, who might throw up some flares and spot you – then it is nose to the ground, regardless of mud, for to have a machine gun turned on you is no tea party. Captain Darling the adjutant was wounded the other day, but it is not serious, in fact he is considered a lucky man as he gets a trip to London out of it. As he was going from the trenches to Battalion headquarters he got hit either by a stray shot or by a damn good shot. We expect to get some real fighting soon. I have just censored over one hundred letters, it is a very tiring job. Wilfred.

P.P. An RCM man by the name of Ince came to see me and told me a wild story about a fellow who was in my class. It appeared that the fellow whom Mr. Martin greatly despised as he was an awful fool at Meths was ordered by the General of his Division to go through the Germans lines at night and find out if the occupied a third line of trenches which the British knew existed. He put on a German coat and hat and did what he was asked to. He could not speak German. It seems rather absurd. Such tales float around here all the time. It is getting late and I am rather tire. Hope you got the waterproof sheet I sent. Good souvenir, eh?

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