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Lieutenant Trumbull Warren

Letters from Lieutenant Trumbull Warren, 48th Highlanders, First Canadian Contingent.
Lieutenant Trumbull Warren

15 March 1915

Another day about half over, and things very dull. Last night about 5, we heard a very heavy cannonading – guns and rifles – which last until about four this morning. Yesterday as usual, our guns and those of the Huns had a go at one another, and also each popped a few at the other fellows’ trenches. Bickles is away on a job, so I’m looking after his platoon, and practically all shots fired at our trenches have gone into it, or the bit next to it. So far the only damage done has been very slight wounds to two, and parapets blown in half a dozen places. The Bosche guns opposite us don’t seem to be in it with those of ours behind us. By the way Elliot Green is in one of the batteries supporting our battalion – in fact, his is operating with our Co. at present. He is well, and a splendid gunnery officer.

Apparently the plans are changed for we don’t expect and attack to be made while we are here, and have just heard that when relieved this time we are to be shifted to some other part of the line.

Sufficient time has now elapsed to tell you more about our getting here. As you know we landed at St. Nazaire on a Monday night, embarked and pulled out about midnight. There was on First Class coach with 4 compartments , each having eight seats and eight officers. You can imagine how funny it was, and what sleep we got, when I tell you we rested our heads on the next man’s shoulders. One chap tried the floor, but during the night I stepped on his face, and that stopped. The men were in box cars; 40 men or eight horses to a car. They barely had room to sit down, but although there until Wednesday night about 11, we all rather enjoyed the experience. And I usually feel badly used if I have not a drawing-room to myself. We went all over France, skirted west of Paris, through Rouen, up to Calais along near a coast, down near Hazebruke. Wed. night we spent there and next morning marched – for first time on pave – about 6 miles out into country. There we stayed until the following Tuesday, when we marched – also pave and oh! so hard on fee and tiring through Armentieres, our Co. being billeted the other side of it. While there each company was attached in a sense to some Imperial Batt’n for experience. We were with Queen’s Own Westminster Rifles – terriers but in the same class as London Scottish – who to all ranks were as friendly, kind and instructive as one could wish. From there on no definite word yet.

At present the chief word is will the mosquitoes be bad owing to much stagnant water. Although it is nothing more than comfy in the middle of sunny days, yet today, which is cloudy after two mild days, we are quite conscious of them, though not bothered. Rats also are here. Billy Marshall, who sleeps beside me – almost double bed fashion – has had them run over him twice when sleeping. As for me, not yet.

The new trench coat came last night, very quickly, in fact, surprisingly so. All my brother Co. officers think, because of it and my breeches that you must have some pull with Post Office. 12 mouth organs, toilet paper, bull’s-eyes, 1 tin jam, figs – splendid, as what I ate last night saved my life today – and tongue, which we will have tonight. All bull, also another box of sweets. I think we are tiring a bit of bull’s-eyes and hard candies. Some toffee would be better next, I think. The first order – for Co. mess – has not yet come from F. & as it was probably ordered before these other eats, would you mind chasing them up, and find out when they were sent. As I get parcels bought by you, with in seven days of writing for them, it should not take more than five for theirs to get here. I have a pound note, which can’t change here, so am enclosing it to you. By the way, would you send me a small copy of some book – to fit in pocket – for reading here: ‘Soldiers Three’ [Rudyard Kipling] or some other good and fairly solid standard, but not a novel.

I’m pleased with my trench coat, and as fur lining makes a bully extra blanket, I’m going to return my long Burberry and some [things] to her things to be put in tin box. Don’t send me any more hankies, as I’ve got too many now. I’ve got plenty of soap and tooth powder now, but a cake of castile would be welcome.

Am very fit, lazy and happy, also pretty comfy. Trum.

22 March 1915

It makes me ashamed when I realize how long it is since I wrote to you or any of my other ‘happy family’ friends. Your letter came a few days since and was handed to me in the trenches. It brought me up with a turn for thoughts of business are very remote these days. Eight months ago I would have deemed it impossible that I could in such a space have entirely wiped from my daily thoughts all things pertaining to our business; I could not have believed that I would be happy. But so it is and I fear that one of our biggest problems will be in settling down to comparatively commonplace life after this go of constant turmoil.

Out life is a most curious one. Here we are in the thick of it, and yet the majority as little concerned or excited as if they were kept late at the office or for some appointment. On the 10th, at 5 a.m. having only gotten out of the trenches about midnight, we marched up to the place for the supports and waited for 7 when the guns started and 7:30 when the infantry took on, I, like most, found it hard to realize that we were in one of history’s battles – Neuve Chapelle – but rather was filled with disgust that it was out lot to be relieved and thus be out of the trenches for the show. For the first hour or so the terrific and indescribable din rather elated and excited one, but that even wore off. Of course, our little bit of line only make a noise to keep the Hun guessing, so we were not called in, but when they had straightened the line up to our section – if they had during those three days – we should have really been in it and probably our sensations would have been different when we saw our men falling all around us as did the Guards and the Gordons.

All in all, it’s a wonderful life this. I am frequently amused by the change – temporary I gear – that it has made in me. Think, only eight short months since I felt piqued and cross if breakfast wasn’t just so, if my smokes were not right, if I didn’t get my two or something more tubs a day at just the time and temperature, and as to being made to walk half a mile because the car wasn’t running? Oh! My! Now, I think little of walking a mile to try to get a pot of jam; four miles and back for the most luxurious tub in the world – a vat in a factory; I think I have cause for rejoicing when I find on coming out of the trenches that our billets, in some broken down and evacuated farm house, have plenty of straw, and cheer with sincerity when I tumble into my dirty blankets with my clothes off! Psychology applied in war is truly interesting and wonderful.

I don’t know that I can clearly describe the trenches in our life in and about them. At the commencement of course the antagonists dug down about four to five feet a trench 18 inches to 2 feet wife, threw the earth up front and read to make parapets and head cover. Every 6 to 12 feet traverses were made as protection from enfilade fire

(Sketch of trench tranverses to be added)

With the advent of wet weather these trenches literally filled up, there even being cases of drowning. The line for that period, of course, always on the alert and never undressed or even with boots off, as in many places the two lines are only 50 to 70 yards apart - in our from 80 yards at one end to about 400 at the other. Immediately after going in, the O.C. of a company posts his sentries, allots his men, giving them their firing posts and bug-huts – generally together – sees what materials and tools are left in; has his telephone orderlies get connection with his flanks and headquarters’ arranges for messengers in the trenches and out in case wires get cut; allots duties; another party or patrol to worry the Huns by cutting their wires, going out to see what they are doing, etc. This is nearly always a night job. He also decides and arranges for the work to be done towards cleanliness, upkeep and improvement of his bit. To me it is a marvellous thing that, in these narrow confined areas where in the space of three hundred yards or more 250 men whose composition is constantly changing, things are as clean, as regards sanitation and fairly healthy, although this number have livered there for in many cases five months.

I am just getting over an attack of dysentery – thus this garrulousness, which I trust has not bored you too much. Would you let mother read this, as my letters to my Toronto family are very scare. At present, I’m sitting outside the convalescent Hospital about 2 miles back from the firing line. It is cloudy but warm and all around me the birds are singing their spring song and all the trees and shrubs in this old world garden are coming out. One peach tree is half in bloom and its pink blossoms remind me of those springtime trips to New York which I so often thought were rather a nuisance. Now I hear the guns and laugh. I believe that of all the happy family I am happier – except for those who are not about home - and have far less worry and hardship than you at home.

Please give my regards to all, especially my brother directors. Tell them ‘Cheer Oh!’ it ill soon all be over and then they will have a white elephant on their hands, for I have tasted freedom and fear it will be a hard task to confine me in four walls.

Trumbull Warren
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