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Dr. Edward Robertson

Dr Edward Robertson (surgeon), 1st Battalion, Ist Brigade, 1st Canadian contingent

4 March 1915

We are half way through our turn. We now have out own line and our own Division is acting as a unit and have been given a part of the line. The men have conducted themselves splendidly since arrival in France so that the British generals have much that is nice to say of them.

A couple of days ago while we were in a torn nearby the enemy began to shell it. I went out of the house to see the shells and went to a field behind. I had just arrived when I heard a screech and a shell burst 250 feet in front of me. I went back to the house and in a minute a man came in and said some soldiers had been hit. It appears that some ten of them had been standing on the road about 150 yards away from my billet when a high explosive shrapnel came. Pte. Holmes must have been hit before it burst. His head, or top of the skull, was taken off as it is done at autopsy and just as clean. There was not a bit of brain in the skull, it was absolutely emptied and splashed on a Scot behind him. A Scot was also killed instantly. Shrapnel through face and head. Another man had his right tibia and fibula absolutely smashed up and was suffering horribly and another had an off bullet in his back and refused morphine but thanked me for a cigarette and treat the whole thing as part of a joke, at all events the smile never left his face. Another had about 70 or 80 bullets from his heels to his buttocks; another, three in his right hand and these are all I dressed and it took me about thirty-five minutes. I have morphia [morphine?] but up as a vaccine is in a rubber-topped bottle. Altogether there were two killed and eight wounded. Well, needless to say I was duly impressed by shrapnel and thought I would like rifle wounds better. We went into trenches that night and at 10 o'clock they brought me a rifle wound. Point of entry over the left eye through eyebrow and out through right mastoid. Entry could hardly be seen but exit had a mass of brains sticking out the size of an egg. Lateral sinus pouring blood. About an hour later a ration party started out, just gone four minutes when a machine gun opens and about 15 rounds rapid by some 150 of the enemy. I t was wicked The bullets were life hail. I waited in fear and trembling for that party. In two minutes a man comes back. Where’s M.O. About six men are dead and I don’t know how many are wounded. I said all get back and carry in stretcher bearers too. I sent a runner off to my 2nd station to have them send for an ambulance, then I ran out to the place where the men had been caught. I met the bearers returning empty. They couldn’t find anyone. When the fir opened the men all rolled into a five-foot ditch full of water and when it was over they went on. Having had enough excitement for one day I went to sleep telling my Sgt. To call me when the ambulance arrived at my 2nd station. He called me four hours later and I asked where the ambulance was. He said the runner had just returned having got lost and hadn’t got the ambulance. I said ‘didn’t he get any information”’ My Sgt. answered ‘Yes, he says Capt Hawrood has your dog.’ My dog Jim I left with my groom and horse. He evidently got away and went back to billet where he found the Third Battalion in possession and Alf picked him up.

Things went rather quietly for about 8 hours. My head case died 2 p.m., and then a few shrapnel shells around just to keep one awake and at dusk I sent for a chaplain to bury the dead man and had a grave dug and cross made. The chaplain came up with us a 9 p.m. and another man was brought in dead. He was hit in the head just over the eye by a bullet that had come through a bag of bricks. The bullet cleaned out his whole frontal bone and frontal lobe. One could see the sella turcica. An orange would have dropped into the wound alright, it was so large. So we had a double funeral by dark with bullets all around us. Then that absolute quiet reigned again -- not absolute but comparative quiet one sometimes gets in the firing line – shells frequently -- bullets of a ration party, just leaving a trench when a bullet tears a hole on the top of his head. It tears out his sup. long. sinus which as you know is prone to bleed a little and his brain protruded about two inches, the upper parts of the Rolordic areas being readily seen sticking outside the scalp. He dies three hours later.

Of our three deaths in the trenches so far this visit one was killed in daytime by a bullet through the parapet and the other two were in ration parties and were hit by chance bullets -- all wounds chance at all for a Dr. to do anything. All I have done is to arrange for funeral services and I fancy that I’ll fail to get a chaplain something and have to take over his duties, too.

As I have already said the men are behaving splendidly and are very keen. They go out into this storm of bullets cheerfully and readily and I have seen not the slightest suspicion of cowardice. They'll do their little bit, don’t fear. My stretcher bearers are extremely good. They show the best of judgment, apply dressing in a manner that would astonish you if you could see where they work, in an open field inches deep in mud without a light. As far as their courage goes they never seem to think fire too heavy to go out after a man. One of them has just come in and he has traversed an extremely dangerous bit of ground. It is open. He says Fritz is on the job but his aim isn’t very good. Fritz fired at him 12 shots but didn’t get him -- only got close. Jones says he dodged behind bushes. These bushes I might say are about six thin branches standing about 5 feet high. Jones has no fresh mud on him so he didn’t flop down but came right on.

We can’t get to our trenches in the daytime as the enemy are over us and command the ground behind us and so it is very dangerous to move much in daytime. It is extraordinary, I take it, we don’t lose more at night. One came so close to my nose last night that I could smell it and it was going some when it passed me.

The last time I took my temperature it was 100.3o. That was just before the men got hit by the shrapnel. I was busy for about 15 hours afterwards and have been pretty much so ever since so I take it I am all right again. I am feeling fit again at all events.
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