from Dr. A. K. Haywood, Captain in the Canadian Army Medical
Service to a colleague in Toronto
is so scarce for writing letters that I hope you wont mind
if I combine them now for I never think of any of you singly
and at the present time you are all in my thoughts quite often.
This will be a strange letter but I will try and do my best.
I joined the battalion a week ago today and it seems as if I
have lived a life time. Monday we moved into billets about two
miles from the firing line and Friday night we came into the
firing line. The billets are billets in name only mostly pig
sties and out houses of fares that are left in ruins. It is wonderful
to see what man can endure. IO never really appreciated human
nature until now. The men are glorious and so brave. It makes
me feel mean and small when I think what they are going through
and suffering. While in billets I made my sick visits starting
at 9 a.m. and never finished till 3 p.m. visiting the different
barns and lean-tos and what sights they are. Sanitation
is a think unknown to the French peasant at best and now is even
worse. The Tommies have all sorts of ailments but mostly bad
colds and pneumonia.
marched to the trenches on Friday night or rather sneaked in.
I took over Robertsons dressing station and relieved him
as out battalion alternates with him. This dressing station is
a deserted house about 400 yards back of our trenches and is
peppered with bullets at odd times. The first night I went into
the trenches I will never forget. I had to cross a field lit
up every minute by German rockets which they fire over our trenches.
These rockets are followed by machine gun fire and rifle fire.
I can tell you I know of nothing worse than standing in that
same field under those conditions, you are so helpless. Finally
I reached the trenches and rolled in. The mud getting to them
and in them is beyond all description and there is, where the
men do suffer. It is nothing less than awful to see these poor
devils when they come out to draw rations and have their wounds
dressed. No one who has not seen this can realize what it is
like or ever appreciate what they will owe for ever to the men
in the ranks who are here now and who are trying to follow the
wonderful example set them by the English soldier who stuck out
the winter under conditions never even dreamt of. I do hope I
never forget the feeling I have at the present moment towards
the man in the ranks. They may be troublesome in camps but here
they are glorious.
work is a sad one. I sit in this little hole all day and listen
to shells from both side going over me. The stretcher bearers
bring me the dead and wounded, starting their work after dusk.
It is weird to know that they are carrying dead and wounded across
that field and any minute may get it themselves. I am glad to
say they have earned the praise of the whole battalion and have
been warmly thanked many times in the short time we have been
here. I have four of them in this shack helping me. The only
light we have is a candle and shortly after dusk the room fills
up, some sick, some dead and some wounded, all so covered with
wet mud and slime that you cannot recognize them, but not a whimper.
Those that can return do so. The wounded I send back to hospital
and the dead I bury when the chaplain cannot come to us and
such wounds. Yesterday they shelled the trenches and killed three
men; one lad 18 years old was blown to pieces, dynamite couldnt
have been worse. Most of them are shot in the head and death
my little house we are trying to make it more safe with sand
bags for it will be shelled any day now and is just like paper.
We may get time to get out but not if the first one gets it.
At night I lay down on some straw and thank heaven another day
has passed safely but as soon as the guns start early at day
break I begin to wonder how long it will be before one comes
my way. People say you get callous and used to it but it is a
terrible feeling at first. The rain and mud is even worse than
Salisbury, the food plentiful, such as it is; our spirits I hope
are the best.
my regards to all and best wishes for yourselves and may the war
end soon. A. K. Haywood.