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Captain Agar Adamson

Captain Agar Adamson, Princess Patricia's (Canadian) Light Infantry to his wife.
Captain Agar Adamson

4 March 1915

The whole regiment was out last night under subalterns working under the instructions of the RE [Royal Engineers] building new trenches, carrying sand bags, barbed wired and draining and cutting connecting trenches, returning at 5 a.m. They are doing the same to-night only company commanders remaining behind. Two other regiments are doing the same, plus 500 Belgium civilians. They are trying to build trenches like the Germans, and have German prisoners to coach them: when they are complete we are going to retire the whole line to them, as the present trenches are only death traps and might have been built by a first year boy scout. They will have pumps, drainage, proper loop holes, observation posts, out of which you can see without being seen and also shoot, and they are to be connected with each other and the support trenches. This should have been done long ago. All work is done only at night and under a certain amount of fire. Do not mention that we are falling back; but it is the only thing to do as our old trenches allowed the Germans to sap up to us. This, if our new line is properly carried out, they will be unable to do, and we can more readily command their positions.

I have to censor all the company’s letters: they are written in pencil and are difficult to read, even with three candles. One man wrote to-day ‘Our Captain whose name is Adamson, is a dear good fat old man who crawls about in the trenches like a porpoise and speaks to us like real men!’

I rode the afternoon to Ypres. The Cathedral, Town Hall, Hotel, station, and about one-eighth of the town are blown to pieces; the walls only of what looked like a very fine Cathedral now stand. The Germans still continue to put in a few shells every day. They shelled us here today; but beyond scattering the transport horses, I know of no damage done. It was quite an exciting rides as we were between the lines. We say a great many of our guns wonderfully hidden in what looked like natural mounds, quite buried with transplanted trees. The men live in dug outs. I measure some of the holes the Jack Johnson made in the ground, about 28 feet across, and the earth thrown up making the whole nearly six feet deep.

General French sent a telegram congratulation the regiment on the charge the other night. General Plumer and General Snow also sent telegrams of the same sort. PPCLI stock is high just now. The Colonel’s idea is attaching rather than holding. He claims losses are less than being bombed out of our position, and the effect on the troops is good. All the men I have seen who were in the charge liked it.

Lyle one of our new officers who was with Villa in Mexico and whose job was making bombs has been appointed “bomb operator and instructor” to [the] Brigade. The General says he can find almost anything in the PPCLI.

My dinner tonight consisted of devilled sardines and soup –- the beef would have ruined the teeth of a bull–terrier and sent him to the dogs’ home with stomach trouble ...

6 March 1915

We have had quite and interesting time since I wrote you last. The new trench digging and parapet making is going ahead during every moment of darkness. I let the party to D... where we were divided, the C.O. leading two, Buller and I the other. We were sniped at all the way and while we were filling sand bags, putting up entanglements, etc. The Germans kept putting flares all the time. The men remain absolutely still until the got out. They are now getting quite good at this, though some men will insist on getting lower down on the ground in the middle of the flare and the slightest movement is seen by the Germans and they commence peppering: but thank heaven accurate shooting is difficult at night. We had only one man hit –- King –- shot through both legs. He was sitting on the ground holding a bag for another man to fill. He got away on a stretcher. The trench is going to be good. It is the CO’s idea and is approved by HQ.

The CO and I crawled along to see Stewart and Papineau who were in quite a good trench. I wanted to see it, as I was to have relieved them tonight but it has been postponed till Monday for some reason or other. They had two men killed getting in. We took Cork with us last night. He seem to enjoy it. He would very much like a chilblain cure. We could not get the cow out of the trench. She would not hold together. We must try chloride of lime. The kind we have here is very strong. It will eat through a pair of boots in half an hour.

At four o-clock this morning, the men in the front of our artillery which during the day before had been increased with large guns and French batteries shelled the German trenches for an hour as hard as they could fire and reload, the men just before daylight going back when the artillery stopped. I do not know the result.

This afternoon Brigade HQ sent round to all troops and inhabitants, instruction where every man was to go in the even of the Germans shelling this place out of existence. They have a similar village behind their lines which we have refrained from shelling. The idea now is that we should have a go at and knock it out in which case they will do the same to us. All the houses have good cellars and in the majority of cases troops would be safe while it lasted, although a bit crowded. If this place is blown to pieces the accommodation will become a question of important. I think as far as comfort goes, it would be pleasanter to try the golden rule thought it would not be the most direct way to Berlin.

There seems to be a general movement of some sort going on here to=day. The place is full of general and their glittering staffs running about very busy. Everything is kept so dark for fear of plans leaking out, but we know in due time.

7 March 1915

I hear the result of our bombardment was a success. Stewart who saw the thing from his trench says it was very severe, he could see bodies thrown up in the air and from around. These may have been in many cases old bodies. Stewart got his 60 out of the trenches and was relieved by Hill. He lost 3 killed and 4 wounded. . . .

Nevin and I took a walk today to a beautiful old chateau. Both the Germans and English were throwing shells over us; but the former have so badly knock it to pieces, they do not shell it now. It has a moat all round it, approached by bridges – wonderful garden and stables. The Germans occupied it and cut the oil paintings out of the frames to make a dry walk to the stables. There are two beautiful bedrooms in the top storey not blown away, in which are all kinds of women’s smart underclothes kicking about. The furniture was French and looked good –- no carpets –- probably taken away by the Germans. They had their own electric plant and must have had a small zoo by the look of the cages in the grounds. The garage was heated with how water – - cellars magnificent –- but only empty bottle there now. Troops have been here for a long time but it is now only occupied by and artillery officer as an observing station. With a telephone he directs the firing –- a lonely job but interesting. The Chateau belongs to a Madame de Ghent d’Elynevald and called by the name Voormezeele.

I saw a poor old horse yesterday which had been struck by shrapnel, being led to sick lines. A gang of men were gathering bricks from a blown down house, to make roads, and a shell caught them. A shell also caught a doctor and tow assistants today and a single man walking along the road. Ward is still alive at a Hospital near here with a good chance of recovery. The nights are no dark which makes it easier to get into trenches.
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