Thomas Franklin Townsend (T.F.T.) was born on 26 January 1889, the son of Thomas Birch Townsend and Jane Ann Ewart of Coventry England. The family immigrated to Canada in 1863 and farmed a piece of land 2 miles west of the village of Harrowsmith which is located 10 miles north west of Kingston, Ontario.
After obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree at Queens University, Kingston he spent the winter of 1914-15 in Regina, Saskatchewan as a student teacher. In 1915 he enrolled at the Wesleyan Theological Collage, McGill University in Montreal.
By 1916 the slaughter in Europe had been in progress for two years. As the number of dead in Flanders increased so did the army's requirements for new recruits. To a generation just emerging from the Victorian era, a distant war still conjured images of glory and adventure. The general public in Canada had not yet grasped the reality and the horror of trench warfare.
In the month of February 1916 T.F.T. made three monumental personal decisions. Firstly he decided to postpone his university studies at McGill and then on the 9th he married Lucy Ellen (Nellie) Medcof, daughter of the Rev. John Dowker Medcof and Eliza Jane Rowe of Hartington, Ontario. Thirdly, on the 14th he enlisted, in Montreal, for active service and became 530625, Private T.F. Townsend.
As a deeply religious individual he had strong moral reservations about taking human life. He wished to 'do his bit' yet not at the expense of his personal convictions. His solution was to select service with the medical corps which would allow him to work toward preserving life rather than taking it. For the duration of the war he served with the 9th Canadian Field Ambulance, attached to the 9th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Canadian Division and later at the 7th Canadian Field Hospital in Etaples, France.
Some take easily to army life but as his diary indicates, T.F.T. was not one of these. At this point in its evolution, the Canadian Army still retained many of the British military traditions. One of the more onerous aspects was the maintenance of the rigid class structure which separated the world of the officer from that of the enlisted men. T.F.T. appears to have mentally placed himself in neither the officer nor the other ranks category. He chaffed at this aspect of military life and the controls in general which were placed upon him.
Thanks to his literary inclination many incidents which he experienced in Belgium and France come to life in his diary. His constant conflict with the military censors, witnessing the deaths of gas casualties and the description of 'bath parade' are only some of the moments about which he vividly writes.
T.F.T. survived the slaughter in Europe. He remained with the Canadian Army in France and England until 1919 and, while awaiting his discharge, completed a semester at Edinburgh University. He completed his Bachelor of Divinity degree at McGill University in 1920 and was ordained as a Methodist minister that same year. His only child, Alma Jane Pauline, my mother, was also born in 1920.
He served as a minister with the United Church of Canada throughout southern Ontario for 46 years. For at least three decades following the war he maintained his connection to his military past by active involvement within the Royal Canadian Legion, serving several terms as branch president.
On the 8th February 1967 T.F.T. died suddenly and peacefully in his sleep. He was 78 years of age and one day short of celebrating his 51 wedding anniversary. He is buried in the civic cemetery in Belleville, Ontario.
Today eleven people claim direct descendancy to this one Canadian soldier who returned from Europe in 1919. 59,544 other Canadians did not. If one were to roughly extrapolate just the Canadian numbers into the present, the total cost to this nation would be approximately half a million potential souls. It is estimated that the total number of civilian and military deaths, directly related to the war was approximately 20 million. It defies the imagination to comprehend the total human potential which was forever lost.
This transcription is dedicated to the memory of my grandfather, Thomas F. Townsend, and to all the men and women of that decimated generation.
Thomas F. Hutchinson,
The diary is a hardcovered and cloth bound notebook measuring 7' x 4 1/2' and would fit easily into the pocket of an army tunic. Due to his often-stated uncertainty regarding the expected length of the war he adopted a very small script in order to maximise the available pages. The diary pages are lined and he used two lines of writing for each ruled space.
Throughout the period during which entries were made several types of fountain pens and lead pencils (often dull) were used. As a result of the tight script and blurred letters it was sometimes difficult to interpret the text. If a word could not be deciphered it is indicated by __?__. With few exceptions he did not bother with paragraphs, again, because of his concern about conserving space. I have added the paragraph structure in order to make it a little less dense and easier to read.
I have added the [Italic text in square brackets] in an attempt to enhance or clarify.
The text which appears (bold in round brackets) at the end of some of the daily entries are notations made in the Unit War Diary by the Commanding Officer. I have included them in order to show what was deemed relevant by those at the opposite end of the command structure.
Thomas Franklin Townsend
9th Canadian Field Ambulance
Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1917
March 24, 1916. London
Under the guidance of an old printer, Waterman1 and I visited Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abby, The Old Curiosity Shop made famous by Dickens, St. Paul's Cathedral, the monument erected to commemorate the Black Death, the Fish Market noted for its good fish and bad language, London Tower, Tower Bridge and returned by London Bridge. In the evening three of us visited the Wax Works [Madame Tussauds]. A day could scarcely be more full. I think we saw as much this day as anyone could see in a day, of wealth, grandeur, tombs of kings, their prisons, their weapons, their instruments of torture and oppression.
I know of nothing which could be more impressive than the Service of Intercession in the Abby, there, among the tombs of the mighty, great folk of a thousand years, England's rulers, poets, warriors, statesmen and queens. What a nation. Greatest in age, in grandeur, in world wide labour for the betterment of the race.
1 530691 Albert Jabez Waterman of Newfoundland
The most effective method among the many, to preserve the memory of one dying, was that of a certain duchess. Every Saturday, out of the estate of her heirs, a certain number of poor widows are given a loaf of bread and a penny in her memory.
We saw the Bloody Tower, the place where Raleigh spread his cloak in the mud for the Queen to pass over. The balcony where Lady Jane Gray stood to see the execution of her husband, the path along which she walked a few moments later to her own death. Walking up the winding stone stairs and through the old prison I saw walls which are marked with their names which they cut in stone to wile away the weary hours. One could feel how these wretched mighty folk suffered.
These things are too big for me to write about. Many of the tombs are covered with sand bags to prevent destruction from bombs. The oldest windows were being taken out. Many evening church services were cut out especially St. Paul's. Busses passing this cathedral and going over the bridge must extinguish their lights. Powerful search lights and anti aircraft guns are mounted in a high place here and there. The traffic is cut in two.
March 26, 1916
Hunting up a famous preacher I finally heard Dr. Horters at Westminster Chapel. Visited Hyde Park, a large stretch of grass with seats for thousands. The grass grows so well no fear of people destroying it getting to seats. Returned home for service at Haslemore and into camp and mud before nine.
We saw many soldiers returning from the Front, on leave or wounded. One said fighting was not a bad job if it wasn't for the dirt. He hadn't had a wash for over a week. One fellow was a graduate of McGill. He was returning home from graduation ceremonies when he enlisted. Had been wounded and sent back. He was on a machine gun. In a charge one day the Canadians had passed him. His gun no longer of use he grabbed up a rifle and went along receiving a slight wound. When he had lain for some time he saw a German coming at him with a rifle and bayonet. He got up with what strength he could muster but could not fire before the bayonet had gone into his side. He struck his foe down with his rifle butt and killed him with his bayonet. He had enough of war.
Many of the returning men were ragged, haggard looking, with wiry muscles and thin cheeks, but a great spirit shinning through their eyes. War is a game which fills them with horror yet many of them love its wild excitement and desire to go back.
March 27, 1916
Ice on the puddles and a few flakes of snow. I am a mess orderly today washing stacks of dishes and greasy pans.
March 28, 1916
We marched today out to Hindshed Heath for a review by Sir Sam Hughes returning at 2 P.M. famished, find mail from home. A wild night with heavy snow, wind and rain. I find a cozy room at the Soldiers Rest and write. We may leave any day now for France.
Tucker2, McIntyre3, White4 and I are on sentry squad. We receive a lesson in sterilizing water. A very good thing they say.
2 530626, Herbert Tucker, of Kingston Station, King's Co., Nova Scotia, remained a close personal friend throughout the war. He survived the conflict and became a United Church Minister.
3 530578, Andrew Thomson McIntyre, of Norden Largs, Ayr, Scotland.
4 530682, Edwin White, of Montreal.
(General Review of Canadian Troops on Ludshott Common by Minister Militia Major General Sir Sam Hughes. In the afternoon all Officers met the Minister at a reception. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
March 29, 1916
Ground frozen hard and the boys joke about English weather and the Englishmen try to explain. We received identification disks on morning parade.
This afternoon I had my first experience at stretcher drill, charging down a hill after supposed wounded men. Rather hard on soft muscles. When we returned the fellows played a continuous joke as the late comers returned. There was mail down in hut 22. With hasty steps they ran down. They returned with ruffled feathers while fellows cheered. It was a mean trick.
March 31, 1916
First real duties on sentry squad. We are rich now. 10 bob came our way. Harrah for a current bun and a cup of tea in the morning.
April 1, 1916
Stretcher drill again. A march of about nine miles through lanes and byways to a commons covered with bush and broom, trenches and sunken roads. Some of us play dead and wounded while others rush to their assistance, and a fine jolting we poor wounded got. From 9:30 to 11:45 General Jones inspects us and tells us we will go to the Front any day now. It's the real thing for there will likely
be a repetition of Ypres of last year5. We shall be needed in dangerous and difficult work. More squad drill and hard days work. A fight in the kitchen since C.A.S.C. [Royal Canadian Army Service Corp.] have been making free with our rations.
5 This is a reference to the 2nd Battle of Ypres, April 1915 which was the first major battle the newly formed Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) took part. More than 6,000 Canadian casualties were sustained in this battle. It was noteworthy since it marked the first instance of the German use of poisonous gas.
Bert conducted service at night.
(Inspection by Surgeon General Jones, D.M.S., Canadians. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
The usual duties in the morning with medical inspection. Off by 2:30 and such a walk, some 8 miles through Greyshott, Hindshed, Haslemore, Hammer, Shottermill, Bramshott6 villages by way of the Devils Punch Bowl, the Murder Stone, Gibbets-Cross. Wild moor land mostly. Paths leading down under the shadows of ancient hedges, through bush and holly, beach, oak, passed gentleman estates, little old farm houses, mostly quaint with hedge and garden. One of the most enjoyable walks I have ever had. The ways are winding, crossed and inter-twining so that we have to enquire our way.
6 The Canadians were occupying a military camp near the village of Bramshott, located 20 miles NE of Portsmouth and 40 miles SE of London.
A supper at Soldiers Club, a little devotional service in Soldiers Rest, then home. Have a number of cards for Nellie that recall the beautiful scenery.
April 2, 1916
Usual sentry duties keep us from service. At 10:30 comes the orders no man out of lines today. We take it as a sure sign of departure. We are shooting Germans and are being shot by them in our dreams. We are not worrying any though. By diligent effort inspired by laziness I escape all special duties of packing and preparing after getting my own kit packed. I go to YMCA to write letters. Since we had but one blanket left from our beds Bert and I bunk on the floor together. There is a general chorous of coughing, snoring, restless movements to keep warm. Clouds of
smoke from a stove. Fitful dreams entertain me rather than sleep for the greater part. Reveille at 4:30 etc.
(The unit received orders to leave for Southampton. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
April 3, 1916
Started at 9:45a.m. with all kit aboard, part of Sec. B. Trudge for 3 miles under increasing weight and rising atmosphere. Who imagined the old hero Atlas with the world on his shoulders. Was he a British infantry soldier on a ten mile march? Train at Liphook. Good bye Bramshott and Hut 24. On to France and war. Can not realize it. More like a pleasure trip with a hazy got-to-go someplace in our mind. Yet we expect wounded men to carry, the thunder of guns, and all of red war before the end of the week. Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile is the current song. What great medicine smiles are for all manner of the diseases of life.
Port reached and we read letters received today and take sun baths. On board at 5 p.m. and out into the harbour to spend the night. Ships on all sides, thousands of soldiers. Some hospital ships with red crosses on side.
Clockwise from upper left. H. Tucker, G.E. Bee, B.J. Warr, T.F. Townsend. Stretcher squad #1 after an engagement in Flanders, and after a wash up. Note on reverse. These shrapnel helmets are fine things to protect ones head from shrapnel shell but will not stop a bullet excepting a spent one. They are rather heavy but one doesnt seem to mind the weight under shell fire. Belgium, June 18th, 1916
(Entrained at Liphook in two parties for Southampton (9A.M. and 11 A.M.). Arrived at Southampton late in afternoon and went on board T.S.S. Maiden. Supplies, medical and otherwise, taken on board. Horses placed on forward and aft deck. Officers were the guests of the Directors of the Company and provided with cabins and meals. Men lived below decks and used the iron ration. Left dock at 5:30 P.M. and anchored out in harbour. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
April 4, 1916
Still here. Aeroplanes often seen. We know not why we linger. A fight almost for our 24 hour rations and we take them over into a corner to eat. The day warm. We read and talk on deck until nine in the evening. Every star is out, lights from the city and shore, lights from the ships far and near, streams of lights searching for secrets the sky may hold. Bert and I bring our blankets on deck and sleep under the watching stars. Deck planks our bed springs, wooden life belts our pillow, our great coats our coverlets, our bedroom light the Great Bear and Polaris.
An argument with Bee7 and Warr8 on is it [the war] worth while. Warr is discontented and speaks rather unpatriotically at times, likely when the call of home is loudest. Is the thing to be gained worth the sacrifice? Is the brutal bloodshed and mutilation of the best and bravest worth it all? What of the broken hearts and the pinched lives of the tender ones who love, the life of toil, poverty and the lack of education in our children as well as the brutalising effect on those of us who return safe? What if the British Empire should fall and Germany goes down in the pages of history as the conqueror of the world. 'Tis not to keep treaties, to defend the weak nation or to assist friends we fight but for Britains life and supremacy. More truly the fight may be against a false and ruinous philosophy, a perverted idea of God and life as well as to maintain the high Christ ideal of greatness through humility and service against the brutal red in tooth and claw ideal of the survival of the fittest. German ideals would never have a vital grip on the Anglo-Saxon mind or of the world in general. Revolution would have come gradually and bloodless as the greatest revolution which Britain in 18th and 19th centuries did.
1 530514, George Ewart Bee of Birmingham, Warwick, England.
2 530631, Baxter James Warr of Montreal.
Germany a world conqueror - so was Alexander and Caesar and we now read with pity at the futility of it all. Should our descendants read of the fall of Britain and the rise of Germany? Britain can never fall. Her ideals of peace and patient industry, her consideration for the individual, small and great, would rise and revolutionize the world, not by power of sword, but of mind. Is not the truth that men love to handle huge instruments even if they be of huge destruction to make the world groan for decades of pain, to fight and risk and destroy this mighty and mysterious thing called life. Mighty question this, is it worth while, is it justifiable? Was there ever a war that paid in human advancement for the human destruction? Is it not all a mighty unbelief in the power of truth, faith and love? Christ has shown us that love can conquer all things and we half believe it in the case of the individual. If a man does you an injury, by self control, fellowship and assistance you conquer him by thus appealing to his higher nature. Can it not be true of nations and races? Cobden and Bright appealed to the humanity of landowners and conquered them. Welberforce overcame the greed of slave traders. So could the idea of justice and the necessity of individual freedom to human advancement put down German tyranny though it did for a time flourish world wide. Who is there that can stand up in the light of heaven and declare that God made the universe and saw that it was good, that he yet rules and leads men in life nearer and ever nearer to His life and at the same time utter such paradox that any evil is necessary to life. His God, as yoke fellow, co-partner, and assistant toiler, any Satan? Does Christ our Redeemer have as consort in the throne chair beside him any hideous fellow god named WAR?
I can't understand how fellows take life and death.
Here are two jokes. The OC [Officer in Command] has remarked that casualties would occur almost immediately. In comment M. Sill said, Just think what new scenery will surround us next week, referring to the next world. Another speaking about leaving his polishing materials home. I shall not polish my buttons again until I am up on my way to meet St. Peter.
April 5, 1916
Still here and we have all manner of wild guesses. If one wishes to hear terrible talk take up a position on a troop ship isolated by the ocean. It was a lazy day barren of events. The time not dragging much because of a book, a lady to dream of, many dangers ahead from which we are safe here. As we made our bed the ship lights were out and we sat in darkness with ears at attention for the whurr of a hostile aircraft. We creep among sitting and standing men and go up to the deck to see. It proved to be some fault of the machinery on the ship. Aircraft of various sizes are seen almost continuously in the morning. They sail along very beautifully with a huge noise. The Hindoo ship crew walk among us with Hot tea John? and cakes wrapped in doubtful looking cloths looking for pennies. Their thin black bodies are slightly clothed. My bed is on the floor some one foot wide. Cold toes. Wishing for morning. The news? Battle in the channel, many submarines. Two troop ships sunk. Zeppelin raid on Scotland, etc. Bert and I practice communion with rations and it works since it is not met with difficulty on a stomach of unequal size.
April 6, 1916
Still her in some channel, gulf or river mouth of which my doubtful geography will not give a name. Some fellow suggested as the cause of delay - they have not room for us in Bramshott so they shoved us out into the ocean. Well there is room here. Many ships with soldiers pass but here we are - period. Lorna Doone is my pass time and I enjoy it greatly. My chief temptation is to write a letter to Nellie. This is the fourth day without a line. Hard biscuits today. Tomorrow we can say a heartier Grace over rations of bread. Buy a leathery flapjack [pancake or chapati] from a Hindoo for 3 shillings. Robbery but hot. Try to sleep on deck but a few drops of rain drive me down to a bed under a table - the jungle of men gamble in pennies and quarrelling at it. A talking machine [record player] is playing hymns, others are swearing as they make their beds at which an Anglican student holds up a hand and they cease for a minute. Another is reading his evening passage of scripture beside a bench. Rolling and tumbling, swearing as they retire, floor covered with an indiscriminate mess of sleeping men, kit bags and equipment, pails, brooms, rubbish, the dim lights from the side of the huge cattle steamer, the continuous thunder of the horses pawing on the resounding iron deck just above. In the middle of such confusion I lay down to sleep like a child whom his mother has kissed good-night and tucked in.
April 7, 1916
Still here. A day on guard in the hold of ship. Though against orders I wrote part of a letter. I was glad of the duty. A ship towed in, as if lame, nationality guessed at. A hydro plane went past, first in the air then in the water. The first I have seen of these wonders of the air and seas. We leave by 8 p.m. and by 9 p.m. we are in the channel. Lovely scenes of an island, an ancient stone castle standing like a forlorn ghost with dumb mouth lamenting of glorious days gone by. We pass Osborn House where Queen Victoria died, the town seen indirectly through mists, the water coloured with sunset. War boats whistle and bark, lines indicate submarine nets and mines. No chance for Germans here.
(Ship remained at anchor until evening of April 7th, then she left Southampton at 7:30 P.M. and was escorted across Channel by torpedo boat destroyers. The delay was due to submarine activity near Havre. - Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary.)
April 8, 1916
Le Havre - Second wedding anniversary - two months since. In Canada she will soon awake to it and wonder where I am. Last 9th on the Atlantic, this, my arrival in France, next in the hands of God.
Things look a little foreign, enough to remind me I am on a foreign shore for the first time. Soldiers with their curious light blue trousers, like bloomers. Lamentable waste of cloth in war time. A small group of German prisoners go by. The first I have seen. Dirty ragged clothing, tunics patched and worn. We all rushed like a bunch of school boys to see them but were turned back by our Sgt. Major. We sun ourselves on the dock and eat cake and sandwiches. We march up a long winding road to the highest hill and sleep under canvas in a beautiful spot. Just a little cold. Bought a post card for Nellie. Got a card after inquiring at a dozen places. Officers give instructions!
(Arrive at Le Harve at 2:30 A.M. April 8th. Men were disembarked and marched to Rest Camp #1, Sanvic, just outside of Le Harve. Inspected by Camp Commandant. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary.)
April 9, 1916
We could not go down town last night on account of unexpected and hasty orders. We are told we leave for the Front today. Men from Egypt shiver a bit as they wash. They had finished up war in the east and now must help us. France is very much like English scenery with mist, hedges, plants, houses more elaborate in decoration. Many English signs, many Belgian flags. A lovely place, the hill by the sea with ancient houses. Grand buildings used for hospitals by the English. English and Belgians seem to be as much in prominence as French except in the language of the people. Flower market with perfume, immense shipping, cotton piled high in places.
April 10, 1916
The calendar in my mind went wrong9. Instruction in stretcher drill, motor wagon [truck type ambulance], etc. We know now we shall be on stretcher bearing work. Take news without a change in feeling. A route march out through the city, out through fields and meadows, along the cliff, back through the Australian camp. The most miserable human creature I ever saw, an old woman rag picker at 75, red eyed, face besmeared, lonely. Captain held me up for long hair and therefore got off short. Wrote letter for censor, first time10.
9 The date of this entry was originally incorrect.
10 This was the first time one of his personal letters was being subjected to military censorship.
(Field Ambulance sections sub-divided into tent and bearer sub-divisions, with Officers detailed to each and special duties detailed to the men. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary.)
April 11, 1916
Rain. We're to leave at 2 p.m.. Must we carry all this? Two blankets? No, as a contrary order was given. Moved off at 3 p.m. along streets of cobble stones, down winding narrow streets. See many young widows with long flowing capes. The children beg for biscuits. A foreign flavour in everything. Took train about 5 p.m. Something new. A long string of cars, every other one marked 'Men' the other, 'Horses'. Why they marked the cars as they did I know not for they were all alike. Thirty of us in a tiny car, large cracks in the floor, the strong odour of horse manure. We have a small flickering light of which K. said we must light a match now and then to see if it were yet alight. No windows. Lay down in blanket and though the lightest I slept warm and well. My first ride in a cattle car. Fellows kick like steers especially when other soldiers pass from the passenger coaches. Woke at twelve and listened for ten minutes to the most awful swearing I ever heard. The horse transport fellows make the place smoke with the bad language.
(Train. Transports and A and B sections left camp at 3:30 P.M. and march to Gare Maritime and entrained. Men were placed in cattle trucks, 30 to each. Officers had first class compartment in passenger coach. Section C and three officers left behind as rear guard; these followed at 8 P.M. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
April 12, 1916
Ypres, Belgium. In cattle car until about 4 p.m. To eat - 9oz. of canned beef and 3 biscuits. Read Lorna Doone. Off train about 4 o'clock. Hospitals have large red crosses painted on roof and bomb proof huts of sand bags. Unloaded wagons then march some 3 miles through some small villages. We were told that on this road 12 men fell last night. Proved to be untrue for the shells fell short. People look happy. An old lady calmly weaving lace, an occasional building with windows gone, bricks knocked out. When darkness falls star shells [flares] are seen to one side. The first of the real thing, this is war. Within a short distance is the firing line where men are fighting and dying. There have been Canadian casualties within the last few days they say. I hope this horse shoe will not bend. [The horseshoe was a good luck symbol.] If so, God help me. I can scarcely classify my feelings. No fear except when I got a doubtful story of six Red Cross men buried yesterday. One dying in seven months is a more reassuring story.
Still we are here ready for anything. No troubled thoughts or shivering of the flesh as on 13 Jan. We are ready for the work and anxious even. Say we go into the trenches tomorrow night. I have a new mind, take all things, never wink. Oh pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile. What's the use of worrying, it never is worth while. [words from a popular song].
A low roofed wooden hut with 25 men. Rather close but quite comfortable. Mud, high trees with tuft of branches on top, fertile green fields. Aside from long strings of wagons, horses, fields filled with camps and hospitals, neat little grave yards packed with little crosses, all at peace. Slept splendidly. I sleep next to a negro cook. Carry rations for Sgt. Price11 across mud. Old Fussy [nickname for Sgt. Price].
11 530603, John Finch Price of St. Jerome, PQ.
It looks serious when we see the bricks knocked out of houses from splinters of shells and we listen to the stories which old timers tell for the benefit of the uninitiated. On the whole it is more like a pic-nic yet. The war here is within less than a mile and gives me less anxious thoughts than it did when I was on the opposite side of the world in Saskatchewan.
Fellows in next hut make a terrible row singing injudiciously.
(Belgium. A and B sections arrived at Remi Siding. Belgium in afternoon and marched to Divisional Rest Station G.15 C and were billitted. The officers were the guests of No. 5 Field Ambulance. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
April 13, 1916
The news comes that we are to advance on to the second dressing station. Major: Just keep your eyes open and do your work, never mind the enemy. It seems as if it were into the real dangers of battle we were going. 'A' section shakes hands in farewell to us of 'B'. We pack our troubles and smile.
Get mail, precious mail.
A long hard march, hardest yet. The officers make a mistake and lead us nearly a mile out of the way making two miles extra. We make a face and turn around. 2 1/2 hours.
In the first town the windows are half gone from the buildings, marks of bursting shells in walls a few tiles gone but after two years of fighting it does not seem so much. Farmers quietly dray [a two wheeled cart] in their fields, children with their same unconscious laughter play around houses, women do their accustomed labour just as if no guns ever barked death. Auto wagons rumble over the cobble stones, motor cycles fly on their noisy way, army service wagons trot along, troops of infantry march with shovels over shoulder and queer pot shaped, bullet proof helmets [French?] on their way to the trench12. Big guns boom behind us, to the right and left and ahead. We are reassured by the calmness of the inhabitants even though the two years of anxiety and neighbouring death has left its mark. We pass trenches prepared for a probable retreat and the traps of barb wire. A few holes made by bursting shells, six to sixteen feet across.
12 Members of the 9th Field Ambulance were not issued helmets until the end of April.
Spend a night in a most comfortable hut. Divided into sections of six to go to the dressing station. I hope not to go and get my wish and have a splendid sleep. A few wounded we hear about but I do not see. At 1 a.m. I am awakened by the rousing of my bedfellows and listen as a Sgt. describes the horrors he has just seen. He speaks in whispers and is dressed in a foreign looking raincoat. There are candles flickering, blankets over the window to hide light from air craft. It is the hour of midnight when thoughts most readily take hideous shape. I think for a few minutes then roll over on the floor bed. I think of her who wrote me those letters of love and drift off into sleep. Before retiring I write sitting on the floor by candle light. Look outside and see the flash of huge guns light up the overhanging cloud and the constant shooting flares - makes one feel as if it was a noisy thunderstorm - if not for the death. Thrilling. V.C. and men go on up to carry stretchers and the story of the things they saw and passed through come in varied and awful form. If one believed and cared he would die of fear or prepare to pay for his blanket13 in about two days.
13 When being buried under battlefield conditions a soldier's blanket was used as a shroud.
(Belgium. Part of B Section and two officers left for Brandhoek in afternoon. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
April 14, 1916
A day of comparative idleness. Moved to a brick barn to live. Very comfortable and the mice step gently when they make their way across. On guard in the dressing station. See first two men killed by a shell. Poor chaps were in a rest camp quite far back; they were coming out of their hut at dawn when struck. Their ghastly blood flecked features make it more plain the meaning of those booming guns. Handled none too gently, pinned up in their blankets and laid side by side to rest in the soldiers grave yard. In sure and certain hope of resurrection read the officer. Oh God may the words be true. If it were not true the horror, the unspeakable cruelty of life would surely banish all joy from the world.
The blackbirds here sing just as joyously as they do in the swamps back at home.
Up until 11 p.m. in the dressing station waiting for wounded to come in. Only one man with Appendicitis. Some do come in after 12. Seemed a rather quiet night from here.
Attended a good lecture by one of those devoted Anglican clergy who follow their men almost to the very trenches.
Saw a helmet torn by a bullet. Hole as big as a fist. The man had another wound in his shoulder.
(Poperinghe, Belgium. Remainder of unit left D.R.S. and took up quarters at 65 Rue de Boeschepe, Poperinghe, replacing No.1 Field Ambulance. One Officer and a detail of men left for Asylum, Ypres. One Officer and a detail of men detailed for duty at Advanced Dressing Station, Maple Copse. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
April 16, 1916
On duty in the coal house. Others go to church while big guns are making the air pant with bursting shells. Later quiet and we go to a little service in the evening. Simple, very effective. Our hearts go full into the hymns. The old familiar prayers they never were more earnest.
Attended the funeral of three GG [Grenadier Guards] men. The grave yard grows fast.
A most lovely day, warm and quiet except for the shells popping at the many air ships sailing in all directions. They seem never to pay any attention, no more than to mosquitoes and truly few came near. A vicious flash, a puff as of batting white or black, a pop. In the momentary glare of a bursting shell there is something indescribably horrible, worse than the glare of a tigers teeth or the glare of a lions eye. Something devilish as if a spark stolen from hell.
The report is that there are some 50 casualties caused by the morning thunder. It proves to be some 2 or 3 slightly injured. The enemy was trying to hit an armoured train and a huge gun but got nothing.
April 17, 1916
Appointed assistant carpenter with Bee and worked at the hospital. I am happy when I can keep busy but when I have time to think the horrors of blood come over me. Blood on the floors, on the blankets, on stretchers, on dead men's faces, on the hands of those who dress wounds and bury the dead, the smell of the dressing of wounds in the air, the thunder of guns which make men bleed, constant stories of death. We were fixing up windows in an old convent which were broken by recent bombardment of the railroad before we came. As a carpenter I shall have no night duty dressing wounds. Thank God. Had a tasty supper of chips, eggs and coffee in a Belgian house.
(Poperinghe, Belgium. April 17 - 27
Divisional Collecting Station located at Asylum, Ypres, for slightly wounded, is situated in the basement; this place is frequently shelled during the day.
Advanced Dressing Station located at Maple Copse is situated in a small low building protected on sides and roof by layers of sand bags. It is reached by a communication trench which opens onto Zillebake road. Its accommodation for stretcher cases is very limited and work is carried on with difficulty owing to the fact that it is a very low roof affair. Patients being taken out on stretchers at night are frequently subjected to machine gun fire by Germans. Patients are transported on trucks along trench tramway 1000m as far as Zillebeke road. Requisition has been made and placed before the Engineers to have the trucks properly protected with steel shields.
Considerable trouble has occurred in transporting these stretcher cases down the trench tramway owing to the fact that ration parties have been using this track for bringing supplies into the trenches. As this is a down track, they are not carrying out regulations as to traffic, for this reason very often out trucks and patients have to be lifted off the tracks two or three times to allow passage of rations. As our stretcher bearers are under machine gun fire, this is a very dangerous procedure.
The Advanced Dressing Station is considered to be insufficiently protected and the matter is before the Engineers.
The number of cases evacuated from Maple Copse vary considerably. The ordinary daily number being about twenty-five. On April 26th, fifty-four were evacuated and on May 1st. fifty-two.
The Divisional Collecting Station at Asylum serves chiefly as a collecting post for sick cases in and about Ypres, though occasionally casualties from the same place are received. All except serious cases are held there and sent on at night with ambulance carrying patients from Maple Copse, or when in sufficient numbers, by means of the reserve motor ambulance kept at the Asylum.
A detail of men are kept at Menin Mill, whose duty is to transfer cases from the horse ambulance to the motor ambulance.
The advanced dressing station at Maple Copse is also used as Regimental Aid Post by the M.Os., attached to different units.
All cases evacuated from the forward stations pass through Brandhoek, where they are distributed to Divisional Rest Station or Casualty Clearing Station. In addition, sick parades are held at Brandhoek every day, cases coming in from different units at rest or reserve.
Headquarters at Poperinghe this also serves as a distributing centre, chiefly for sick cases reporting from units in and about Poperinghe.
Men of our unit were sent here for rest after so many days spent at our Advanced Stations. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary )
April 21, 1916
Good Friday. Still a carpenter and spend 12 hours each day at the Dressing Station. I feed the sick in morning and do odd jobs. At church twice. The story of Passion Week and the life of Christ were illustrated. Touching hymns Holy father in thy mercy... A prayer for safety and freedom from danger while guns are banging. We have chips at the house of a Belgian. Many words over the charge of a 5-franc note. Bought handkerchief from nuns, kindly old souls. Capt. Tull complains of a plague of carpenters while trying to sleep today. Cpl., S. opens a can of apricots to my pleasure.
April 25, 1916
Ordered up to the Asylum14. Start at 6 p.m. in a motor ambulance. A fast and easy drive over dusty paved roads. The country is pock marked with shell holes. Ruins, ruins, ruins. The houses all deserted. Some completely knocked to mouldering piles of brick, others with gaping windows and naked rafters. Where one half of the house was gone I saw a baby's cradle in the upper room. The Asylum was a magnificent building of brick, beautiful little grassy court yard with forget-me-nots and daisies. The windows are all gone and not a fraction of serviceable roof is left. In the lovely little chapel the altar partly remains but the head of Christ is gone. One can imagine what a pleasant place it had been. We live in the cellar and sleep on stretchers. A little dark but otherwise quite comfortable. At dusk some shells burst over a small company of soldiers resting and some are brought in wounded.
14 The Asylum, also known as the Heilig Hart Instituu or the Sacred Heart Hospice, was located on the western outskirts of Ypres. It was a large structure built around an open courtyard and had a moderately sized chapel at one corner of the complex. There was a graveyard within the grounds of the hospital which was used from Feb. 1915 to Nov. 1917. By the time the Asylum ceased to be used as a Dressing Station the cemetery contained 256 British, 9 Canadian, 7 Australian, 2 British West Indies. All were eventually reburied in Bedford House Cemetery. By 1918 the German bombardments had reduced the Asylum, as well as the town of Ypres, to little more than piles of brick. After the war the hospital was rebuilt according to its original architectural plans.
Fragments of shells [shrapnel] occasionally drop in our yard. The air seems alive with gun explosions and bursting shells. We feel quite safe. Nothing but a Jack Johnson [large calibre shell] could reach us if we stay inside. Some of the fellows go on up to the mill to help in the rush of wounded tonight. The birds are singing their spring songs as they build their nests in sheltered nooks of the ruins. The sunlight is lovely. I enjoy a walk across the courtyard in the long dewy grass.
April 26, 1916
At the Asylum, reading, sleeping, wandering around the ruins.
The artillery starts early in the morning, a terrible bombardment of the enemy's artillery. The batteries within a stones throw of this building makes us jump when they go off. Huge guns, a flash of hellish fire, the atmosphere cracks like a solid thing, one grips the railing as the concussion strikes, then the peculiar whurring scream of the shell as it seems to bore its way through the air. The sound of the shells causes a strange echoing noise as if the sky was an enclosed dome. Fritzy contents himself with blazing at our aeroplanes.
At about nine hell develops in a small valley to our right. Fritz it seems had not been answering our guns but was busy on our trench. On the distant ridge the shrapnel shells burst with a livid red hue. The effect was awful through the clouds of rolling smoke which soon developed. This with shooting flares, the rattle of hand grenades bursting and the machine guns pecking was awful, thrilling, indescribable.
I stood in an upper window gazing out and pray with a heart beating faint, wondering how it was going with our fellows and wishing evil for Fritz. How could I wish evil and pray? Because evil for Fritz meant the end to these scenes of horror.
Earlier as I stand at the gates a shell bursts near and its pieces rattle on the road just in front of me. I beat a retreat just as another comes and sends things rattling among the ruins. At the front gate I hear some two dozen go over, many not exploding. Their shells make a different noise from ours. It is easy to distinguish going and coming. With each coming we crowd in behind the wall until it has passed over. One shell comes pretty close and causes slight panic. I was sitting outside on a bench looking up at an aeroplane with some shells bursting near it overhead. Fearing that some bits might fall upon us I started for the door and the noise of an approaching shell makes us crowd like a flock of sheep before a dog.
I am on guard duty until 12 p.m. Give soldiers water and have a talk with them. Help a sick lad in. Begin to realise that ours really is an errand of mercy.
Lads return early in the morning and describe the battle, how it started and some of the things that happened. Fritz gained nothing by his blowing up of the hill and his attack. Many a poor lad lies cold this morning that was whistling in full manhood yesterday.
Capt. Tull says our cellar has a chance of a million-to-one of being hit by the shells.
April 28, 1916
Two months since I left Montreal. It seems like years. Canada seems like one of those places so far away in time and distance you only just remember.
Now we are at our regular work the time will pass more quickly especially in these perfect summer days. I found a new and pleasant occupation - sketching.
The officer calls us all down into the cellar because of a heavy bombardment which we fail to see or hear. We soon come up again and everyone is hunting for souvenirs. The most plentiful are bits of shrapnel shells. One falls off the roof from a bursting shell. Hamilton got it. I found another bit on the altar of the church.
A wounded soldier tells jokes when one would expect groans. His back was a complete mass of sores, cuts and bruises from the shrapnel. I feel as if an old hen had been scratching for worms on my back.
A medical man tells me something of his experiences during his 20 months of service. On one occasion, while carrying a stretcher a shell just passed him and tore down a brick wall covering himself, his companion and the wounded man but all come out safe. He believes the war will never be over. Nothing can stop it.
I like these old ruins very much, rather romantic and though the shells give me a start now and then I have no sense of danger.
Pay day, 15 francs.
April 30, 1916
Sunday and on guard. A lovely day with a singsong at night conducted by the Capt. I rescued two books from the ruins. We were in the church, at prayer at 9 p.m. when I got a bad fright. A blinding flash. A shell seemed to burst right over my head. A shower of bits of plaster pour over me as I sprang for safety behind the altar. With fast beating heart I return to the cellar where all was excitement. A few moments later a crash as a shell struck the building just overhead. Bits came in through the upper door and hit the stairway. It hit the wall about 12 feet from the door tearing a great hole and knocking bricks and debris into the tea room where a number of chaps were sitting. It gave them a most hearty scare. It just passed by our ambulance in which was a wounded officer and a number of men.
(Poperinghe, Belgium. Two shells came into Asylum courtyard and punctured our water cart (first casualty) and barely escaped ambulance with full load of wounded. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
May 1, 1916
Read the Testament after work. Warr and I wore our steel helmets while on duty. We go out with reluctance into the court yard. We see shells kicking up a fearful dust in __?__. We see Sgt. M15. dodging around corners. No mishaps from last nights shells.
15 530576, Cecil Norman Mayoss of Southampton, England.
At 12 p.m., after I had undressed and into a delightful snooze a call was received for stretcher bearers for the Mill. We go out in the motor ambulance. These machines fill me with admiration. A purring sound, a passing shadow, a cloud of dust is all you get as one passes you. Up through the ruins and desolation. The most fantastic forms. Huge buildings, fallen all but one wall and that standing with gaping window holes or shell punctures. A corner of a wall here stands as a jagged tower. Beautiful arched windows and doors broken and torn. Piles upon piles of brick. Here a faint light through a blanketed doorway, there the remnant of the tower of the beautiful cathedral. The public buildings gutted, cracked, punctured, torn. Piles of ruins. A year and a half ago this was a fair city full of life but the war sport passed and now this ...
At the Mill we stop. A room some thirty feet long and ten feet wide. It is high enough to stand upright in the middle and is made of an arch of heavy iron covered thick with sand bags in an old building. We pass into it through the two doors covered with blankets. Within the usual semi-darkness of candle light, the tins of jam and biscuits, blankets, stretchers, boxes of tobacco, smoke.
Four fellows are sitting about chatting. One is making cocoa for the sick that will come in. There had been a big scrap on and a rush of wounded is expected. Some 60 we hear. The walking patients with small wounds come in and sit along the walls telling the story of the fight and how they or their companions were hit. Are we down-hearted? No. [words from a popular song] is their bearing.
Then came the horse wagons bringing the wounded from the advance dressing station over the shell punctured roads down this far where we have to change them to the motor ambulance which will carry them on down. Gently, silently we lift them out of the wagon and into the ambulance or lay them on the ground to wait for the motor to return. One fellow was moaning and calling to his mother or praying Oh God. Mothersill16 talks to him and tries to take his mind away from his wounds. One fellow had died on the way down. They take him to one side and later bring him into the dugout to search for name papers and valuable to send home. We pass among them tucking in their blankets, giving water and cocoa, speaking words of encouragement. The flash of the star shells gives a dim light for our work aided by the stars. The machine guns rattle fitfully.
16 530588, John Elmore Mothersill. At the time of his enlistment in 1916 he was an ordained minister at Taylor Presbyterian Church in Montreal. He served as a Private with the 9th Field Ambulance until 1917 at which time he received his Commission and served with the Canadian Chaplain Service. He suffered exposure to poisonous gas and was invalided out of service. After the war he settled in Kirkcudbright, Galloway, Scotland where he served as a minister with the Church of Scotland. He died in the early 1970's.
The light of day began to come slowly before three. In the last load we lift out a German officer and two wounded men. The officer raises his head to watch what we are doing with him.
We go back in a horse ambulance through the ruins now seen a little more clearly. How slow it goes.
[At the Asylum] Tucker is on guard at the door looking so rustic that I do not know him. I tell the stories heard during the night and go down to sleep. A full night.
(Poperinghe, Belgium. 68 patients were cleared to M.D.S. Brandhoek. The men worked well and we feel proud to have been able to get so many in one night and leave the .D.S. cleared at dawn. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary )
May 3, 1916
Very quiet day. Read the Latin text of St. Matthew. Jesus seems to speak so many awful words. It is the conversations between him and the Pharisees that is most often told. One is so deeply fearfully impressed with the earnestness of life as one reads his words.
We hear that a mail wagon was blown up and think this may account for our lack of mail.
May 6, 1916
A terrible night for our transports. Germans swept all roads with shells. Many stories of narrow escapes and disasters. S. Jones claimed he had a close shave or half a dozen close shaves.
Fritzy shelled the Asylum. I was in a distant corner at prayer at 8 p.m. when the light of an exploding shell flashed around me. Until nearly 12 p.m. shells were bursting around the building. We were ordered down into a cellar by Capt. T. and it was no hardship. I was in the Dispensary listening to soldier's stories and reading when a shell struck and knocked down some brick. The fellows were restless, rather afraid, hugging the sides of the building and the places under the iron beams. A shell hit with the thunder of a falling building and it seemed to last about a minute. There was a wild rush for the officer's room which was more secure. Men flopped flat on the floor and rushed in a way that was really laughable if one had been free to look at it in this way. A brick fell down through a window with a cloud of dust. Later I slept while waiting for the ambulance to take me away at 3 a.m.
May 7, 1916
A most beautiful morning as we came down the tree lined road. Nothing to recall the bombardment of last night except a dead horse by the road way. To Brandhoek and to Pop [Poperinghe]. Got a pass and Bert and I go out into the country for a long walk. Delicious to be out of the sound of guns. In this country way there is no indication of the war, peaceful and spring time beauty. Picturesque houses of brick and tile among the green of grass and trees.
May 8, 1916
On kitchen [duty]. A walk in the evening poking our noses into shops with much satisfaction. Spent some money.
One hears something one moment which makes one fear the long, long continuance of the war and the next, something which causes you to go to the other extreme.
The talk of the men fills one with utter disgust. There are to be 60 women sanctioned by the government yet we are here to fight for the right.
May 9, Monday, 1916
A day free. Go with Matthews17 to Coubert Monastery, some 14 miles tramp. A great old place of some 200 years on a hill along which one can see nine of the old long armed windmills. The monks were sharing the monastery with the troops. We see one old fellow in his ancient garb, gown and rope girdle, bare feet, cowl and black beard. Go through the sick wards where soldiers lay on stretcher beds. Have tea at a farm house, eggs, bread and coffee. Have interesting time trying to get her to understand my French which is filled in with English. She explains Me Belgium, me married, husband at Front.
One fellow was packing up his friends' clothes. The friend had just died. He was not talking much to the men around as if feeling much and saying little. As he went out he said Oh well, the world is mad. God is good. I hate it all but I'm going to stick it.
Sgt. M. came up to the Asylum trembling in fear of the shells. With much hesitation he made his way out to the court yard to wash. Graham18, taking in the situation, watched his opportunity and threw out on the cobble stones a great tin can and then disappeared. Just how far Sgt. M. jumped has never been agreed upon.
Men under fire naturally act in peculiar and different ways. Mr. Muir19, a man whom I have never heard swear says that when the shells burst around he can't contain himself but must curse till things clear.
17 530687, John Matthews of Cheshire, England.
18 530542, William Graham of Cluckmannan, Scotland.
19 530671, David Holmes Muir of Westmount, PQ.
An officer, wounded, would take no medication until the men were served and then only when he was sure there was enough for all. He who is first is second to all.
May 11, 1916
Another walk to Mont des Cats. The highest point in the north of France from whence you can look down on all the cities of the plain even to the sea. A wonderful view of green fields, hedged trees, wind mills, houses and, in the further distance, the towers and steeples of distant towns. Much of the country has been fought over though showing little of it now. Saw German graves one of which they say is a Crown Prince.
A valley of green and hill side blue with hyacinths.
The Belgian women almost always speak to us though other soldiers that we meet seldom do. Get some chips with Matthews. Three Imperials [British soldiers] are present. They talk filthy to the women and hit one of them with a rap on the hips. My blood boils at the disgrace to the Khaki [uniform]. Some of the women seem afraid to speak to us. Paid 11d for chocolate. No. 9 Field Ambulance are called chocolate soldiers by the Imperials because they are seen more often with a piece of chocolate than with Extra Stout [Ale].
May 15, 1916
Moved to a camp just outside town. Hate to move. Our old kit bag is heavy. I was sitting, reading quietly, when suddenly a great commotion and a storm of language like I had never heard before. It proved to be the Sgt. Major getting after us to clean up everything for the arrival of No.10 [Field Ambulance]. We go for a walk in the evening into country ways and the night is full of the roar of guns. Nicely asleep when a bunch march in from the corps with roaring laughter and loud talk. Wake us all. In the morning we hear that an aeroplane dropped bombs nearby. A wild commotion which I did not hear. Some said they heard things fall, a bit goes through a tin roof etc. Couldn't see anything.
On a march we move as if we were new recruits. The Col. gives an order, the Sgt. Major thinks he made a mistake and gives another. A fine mix up. Made all the officers angry.
(G15c. Whole personnel and equipment moved to G15c map 28. This is a very suitable camp for a Field Ambulance. Men are accommodated in wooden huts. There is room for about 60 patients also in huts. The Officers quarters are also very comfortable. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
May 16, 1916
Went a few paces away to read and write and then could not be found when wanted for duty. On pay parade Sgt. Major called me down and I protested. Some words and much heart. Every Sgt. is as the Pope in his infallibility. Perhaps I was slightly at fault for I wanted to write and one does get lazy.
A bath parade on which the two main topics of converse were lice and the end of the war. Are you crumbly [infested with lice]? Not I - yet!
A lovely walk in the evening, a R.C. [Roman Catholic] service, a valley filled with sun set gold. A country very beautiful.
The name of our hut is Optimistic Hut. I have joined a pioneer squad with Bee. A bomb proof job. I so wish it was. Early in the morning a great commotion caused by hostile aeroplanes. A bomb dropped near with a great roar but I slept through it all.
This diary follows no rules of composition I know. I started out in the evening and end up in the morning.
Each morning Fritz comes along with his aeroplanes and bombs our fellows. Say the Britishers can't get up early enough to keep him away. It is most unpleasant to hear those bombs go boom down here when we are supposed to be at rest and out of danger.
(G15c Good deal of Bombardment by aeroplanes in early A.M. of this district. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary )
May 18, 1916
A stand to [an alert]. This night it fell to my lot to lay in the middle of the bunk made of six blankets on the floor. Wilson on my left, Bert on my right. The lights of the candles were blown out at 9:30.
May 19, 1916
Reading of army art during which men amuse themselves tickling each other with grass. I said that I don't feel so bad about giving a sermon now.
An inspection of gas masks.
Walk to an old wind mill for grinding wheat, rustic enough, surely. Shakes as we walk up the stairs. A fair hair girl lowers the bags. A pretty picture against the Belgian green and blue. The old, old mills with its long awkward arms and ancient machinery. The two wheeled cart with huge, slow moving, good natured horses fastened with a chain and the sweet little maiden pulling on the rope in the door.
A terrible misfortune. Stumbled and spilled my pudding at noon.
Had a theological argument with Wilson20. Finished reading Battle of the Strong.
A bullet went through the cookhouse roof just at noon giving C. Davis21 a scare. A man in our sister corps reported wounded near the Copse.
20 530659, Aaron Porter Wilson, of Montreal.
21 530528, Charles Freeman Davis of Freshwater, Nfld.
The cookhouse stands to the east of the huts. A corrugated iron roof covers it. The sides are of boards but left open on two long sides to give air and allow smoke to escape and relieve the sore eyes of the fatigues working inside. Orders give times for meals but at supper fellows are playing ball, horse-shoes, reading, writing, the time is not noticed. What's that? Supper is ready? A commotion, the ball is dropped, books shut and crammed away someplace, then flying figures jumping sidewalks and ditches, cramming into hut doors and fumbling among the hundred and one articles of the kit for the mess tin. The same rush to get early in the bread lines. In a very few minuets the long line is formed with jingling mess tins. The boys play, there is an occasional oath. To be late means twenty minutes wait for supper. Then slowly, so slowly, move forward step by step until the bread is reached ready cut on the table, the basin of cheese, the spoonful of jam and the tea. Old tea grannies we are! Supper secured, a shady place found and super in the mess tin on the grass with gossip. When will the war end, discussions, etc. All food gone the mess tins must be swept and garnished with sand and water from the water tank. Run to get supper but go very slowly and regretfully to washing of the tin. Here We're in the army now catches us with an unpleasant hitch in the side.
May 20, 1916
Work on the cook house. Have a terrible struggle not to dislike C. Davis and be cross and irritable at many things. An attack of the blues, fought with the help of God to some success. A letter from Leslie in Saskatchewan. A store keeper is surprised that we, being thirsty, ask for water not beer. A scrap with MacIntyre and Tucker in the blanket.
May 22, 1916
Early last evening a hush seemed to fall over the whole camp. A whisper of a calamity. Was it true? It could not be. With some questioning it was confirmed. Our officer who was with us yesterday had been killed up near the Copse. An ambulance had been sent for his body. The first casualty had occurred in our own corps and that of Capt. Waterson. The sadness of the thing followed us in our walk and weighed heavily on our attempts to have a pleasant talk. As we were lying down to sleep Thomas came to the door. More sad news. McGurty22, his batman, had also fallen. His brother23 is with us still.
22 530645 Pte. John McGurty, age 24, son of Catherine McGurty, Cote St. Paul, Montreal, KIA 22 May 1916, Panel 32, Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium, no known grave.
23 530665 Pte. Albert McGurty of Montreal.
The funeral was for four o'clock. A voluntary parade. All special duties were called off so that all might go. At three o'clock we fell in. The officers and part of the men of No.10 were present. In a little hut, roughly built of tar paper lay the body. The coffin was neatly made of pine boards, unpainted. With hats in our hands we filed past our captain who lay like a warrior taking his rest. A warrior against death wrapped in the soldier's gray blanket. His boots were muddy as if he had been walking far. A single, small wound disfigured his face.
The lumber wagon with small black platform fastened and a team of fine black horses drew it. We did our best in the drill and the march. Some dozen officers are present. When everything is ready, six men carried out the body on their shoulders. It was covered with the flag and bands of flowers. As it appeared we were called to the General Salute which we held until it rested on the carriage. Order of March was formed and we moved off at the Slow March which was quickened to the Quick March outside the gate. There was no sound of music since a medical corps has no band. Each soldier, especially noticeable the Belgians, salute the body as it passes. The pungent dust filled our nostrils, the weather was hot and the wagon rumbles over the cobbled stones. The natives stood at the doors gravely chatting. Some two miles brought us to the cemetery. Once there we are lined up and listened to the burial ceremony conducted without a book by a Major Chaplain. A Methodist we thought. The officers all marched past the body with a salute as they passed just as devout Catholics bow when then passing the alter. Then the bugler was called to sound the Last Post. This call is always heard after darkness has fallen and when we retire. In this connection it was most impressive and made the lump form in our throats and the tears come near the surface. Lights, lights out. Finished the bugle. Surely lights out ---.
Away again at the Quick March back to camp. No tears had fallen and we thought the most of ourselves. Who would be next? Still we were sorrowful for our captain and talked much of how it had happened. He had gone to relieve a doctor of another unit in the trenches and while in a dug out a shell had struck and killed five out of the six. Ralph Connor's24 batman25 was killed. He himself had just stepped outside the dugout and thus saved his life.
24 Ralph Connor was the pen name of the prolific and popular writer Rev. Charles W. Gordon. In 1916 he held the rank of Major and was serving as chaplain with the 9th Brigade, 43rd Battalion, Cameron Highlanders of Canada.
25 421050 Pte. Edward George Ledger, 43 Batt., age 41, of Winnipeg.
(G15c Horrified this afternoon at 5 oclock t learn from A.D.M.S. that Capt. Waterston and Pte. J. McGurty were killed. They were in a R.A.P., Sanctuary Wood, dressing a wounded man. A direct hit was made on the dug out and all occupants (six) were instantly killed, except one. Great regret felt by all over this sad loss, our first Battle Casualty.
Capt. Waterstons body brought in early this A.M. Pte. McGurty has been buried at Maple Copse by Major Ralph Connor.
Capt. Waterston buried 4 P.M. by Major Beattie at Reninghelst. The whole unit attended as well as deputations for No. 10 Field Ambulance, No. 1 Field Ambulance and No. 3 Field Ambulance, also Col. Frotheringham, A.D.M.S. 2nd. Division. Beautiful flowers from No. 10 and ourselves. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary )
May 23, 1916
I saw Armstrong26 on the wash house job. Into studs up to his elbows and singing Will never let the old flag fall in a voice none too musical. Today nails were scarce and I learned a new trade. I hope though not to be compelled to put in practice in civi life. Competitors will not likely be many. I was an ash picker.26 530507, Wilmer Coulter Armstrong of Shawville, PQ
We had an issue of chewing gum.
May 24, 1916
A sports day in Pop arranged by G.M. No.9 acquitted itself well and won several prizes. The crowd of Canadians was so big it was impossible to see satisfactorily. While bloody war was raging 15 miles away we were cheering with the usual enthusiasm over a base ball match.
Dinner of chips, a bath and a walk about town. Wilson on guard. A very nice time with usual sports day headache at night.
May 25, 1916
[A typical mornings routine]. Perhaps with half a sleepy eye I have seen the daylight shinning through the door. Perhaps I have heard, with a sleepy ear, the whurr of hostile aeroplanes or our own and the constant air battle. At six the guard comes in to call the kitchen fatigues more or less noisily. I wake too and know I am to have half an hour longer when the bed is so comfortable just before one must leave.
All too soon the watch shows 6:30 and I remember that 200 men must wash in four basins and the early bird catches the dish. The Orderly Sgt. to comes to make sure all eyes are open with a gentle push with hand or foot on the blanketed figures on the floor. Sometimes this is accompanied with word battles but 'tis no use to complain against Fate or the Orderly Sgt.
Up, dress, blanket shaken and put on the roof to air. The water is a problem. There are three sources of supply. A well with a broken pump; a frog pond which receives the drains of the wash house - but we must not wash here, so the Sgt. of Transport says, for he waters his horses there; and the water cart but another Sgt. has ordered no water to be taken for washing. What is one to do? You do as you wish and try to appease any Sgt. who runs athwart your way. None are around in early morning. We wash in a cut oil can and shave in cold water. This done we have physical drill by Sgt. A. We like it best when it's muddy and they let us off. The rusty muscles must work and the toes must be touched. Legs stiffened with yesterdays run must run again. This spasm past - a run for the breakfast line-up occasionally with a book to read while waiting.
May 27, 1916
On Saturday the three of us went to Pop. Saw a foot ball game, had picture taken, saw a picture show. In picture show driven to desperation. I tried to reprove an Imperial for his vile language. It was not that I loved his soul but he made one uncomfortable. Spoiled the picture for me. He told me I should be .... I know not where. He would quit when he wished. He quit but somehow I felt a failure and spoiled the evening walk home. I was in the blues. These blues, which I keep away quite successfully, sometimes grip hard. Am I a failure for all time? Well, if I fall in battle she will never think so.
Met M. in the evening and showed him B. Perley's letter re. keeping our chairman in touch. Had a talk on spiritual things which did me much good and I hope him also. Not so bad a day!
May 28, 1916
Church parade. Service was under a rather hot sun by a clergyman from Quebec. A simple little Anglican talk. Enjoy the Holy Communion service after. The priest robed himself before us and good Methodist brethren had to force below a wayward smile27. Men of all classes were among the some 20 present. Men of clean lip and those whose mouth often utter the filthy blasphemous things. Men of all congregations were gathered in. Praise God for this freer spirit.
Wrote six letters under an apple tree. Tried to find Wm. Creik. Almost taken for a spy because of my many questions. A splendid view from this hill top above the town where so many Canadian regiments are encamped.
Fritz shells Pop. From about 6 to 12. Bee, who had stolen down into town without a pass came back with eyes big but still smiling like a boy just escaped from a policeman. A shell had struck the house next to him and he had the dust of the explosion upon him. In bed we lay counting the shells going into Pop. Most of them were duds. We hear the gun go, the flying cry of a big shell, a fire cracker explosion or was it the noise of its fall only. Such a dead shell we call a dud.
Early in the morning a terrible commotion in the air. All kinds of guns used in the business were going. Roll over again and sleep and let men who fight, fight on, and let me, when I am supposed to, sleep. This is of a certainty a 20th century experience. A sleep under a battle field. That battle field the clouds and its warriors on wings shooting bullets twice as quickly as a watch ticks.
More about Bee. He had seen a sign on the Talbot house28 Come out into the garden and forget the war. He did and soon after a shell struck in the garden knocking him flat down and covering him with debris though he was on the far side by the wall. Another fellow in the house was struck.
27 Methodist of the day considered the robes of the Anglican priest to be overly flamboyant.
28 The Talbot House, located in Poperinghe, was established and operated by the Anglican Church with the aim of providing the troops a quiet refuge away from the war. There is a large chapel on the upper floor.
May 30, 1916
Bath parade. We lined up with towel in hand and march off into Pop. Arriving at the baths we march into a large yard the back of which is filled with lines where girls are hanging out socks, shirts and underwear by the mile length. We enter a hut made of canvas, a form running down the center on which to sit while disrobing. All outer clothing is here taken off and tunics carried in the hands. Twelve at a time we enter and strip leaving dirty clothing on the floor and hanging tunic and trousers on a cross bearing a number which must be remembered. This done we pick up our boots and towels and go into the bath room. Here we see twelve tubs above which is a rather meagre sprinkle of warm water. Soap provided we indulge in luxury more delicious than the perfumed fountains of the ancient citizens of Pompeii. The stone floor, inevitable in Belgium, feels cool to the newly washed feet. Dry on our dirty towel, into a dressing room where another luxury awaits us in the form of clean socks, shirt, towel and underwear. Happy is the man who gets a shirt of some certain color and shape in which he will not loose himself in empty folds. I should not prefer, if I had my choice, the garments of a Grenadier Guardsmen [generally very large men] washed last week. From a hole in the wall ones tunic and trousers comes back to you hot. The cross is suggestive of a grave but it really is alright. It marks the grave only of nameless, little, unwelcome creatures. In the process of the bath they have been crushed by mighty giants who with monster eyes search them from their dug outs and advance trenches in shirts and underwear. Deserted by these same giants whose companionship they have so persistently clung after plenteous feasts and generous hospitality. Drowned in falling water, roasted even in their homes in their tunic palace. Now the monster giant goes with, he hopes a least, none of their company. We dress, fall in and go back through the dust, heat and grime of the main road.
May 31, 1916
While writing a letter saw an observation balloon adrift and in the same darkness German shells were bursting by the scores. Looked like the flash of fireflies. I heard the men had descended in parashoots when it broke loose. Davis said if he were there he would prepare for a hasty trip to Kingdom Come. It was an impressive thing to see there drifting in the darkening sky with certain destruction flashing on every side. If not by this shell then by that. Like a sinner at the end of life, drifting into darkness and death.
Talk not of your Heroes, the men of long ago
For we have men much greater which I'll proceed to show
Men noted for their Valour, their Hunger, Talk as well.
And as you seem impatient, their exploits I will tell.
A valiant man who knows all things as sprightly as a lark
Who'd end this war, right at our door if left to Private P-k.
But he has gone to D.R.S. Case hopeless too they say.
He's got shell shock, an awful knock, it fell a mile away.
Then there is the one, who saved a gun, a Battery so do tell.
He's modest, quiet, never talks, his name is Private R-l.
When shells are falling just like rain, one fell, and no one tried to stop it.
He caught the shell and threw it back and killed the man who shot it.
Thus__?__ a brave N.C.O. who the Copse was sent
When shells did burst, its Safety First says our bold Sgt. A---n.
Oh my poor back, I'm on the Rack, who slaps me woe betide him.
He rode the track, when coming back whilst wounded walked beside him.
Another one has stripes quite three, he's good with Pill and Potion.
To Do or Dare, He doesn't care where, for danger he's no notion.
Too proud to fight, though in the right, the Allies under rates
But then its plain, should he explain I'm from the U.S. States.
Then we have one, the Son of a Gun, He's in our Cavalry too.
He's got the spurs. He's got the legs, for letting shells go through.
We've Shrapnel Pete with rubber feet, got souvenirs by the ton
Old iron, bits of shell he gathers one by one.
But why go on, we're Heroes all, and when stood up in line
The Boches fear, the Allies cheer, long live the No. 9.
June 2, 1916
A Stand Down. Went on a walk to Zellebeke. I have neither the time nor the inclination to write these days. I believe I shall remember the red of the beautiful evening sun as we march along, strung out is sixes, 50 feet apart. We pass shell holes, dead horsed and pass a quarter mile where huge trees were broken off, their branches and leaves covering the road. We wondered if we should see the sun again for, by the roar of the guns and the stories of awful things we had heard, we knew that a hot time faced us. Nearing the Asylum high explosives burst a hundred yards away sending a piece of shrapnel to land at Bert's feet frightening him. Then our walk close up to the Asylum walls and our retreat inside in great haste. We rest there and on with the stretchers.
(Near Poperinghe, Belgium, G15c, Sheet 28, 2 P.M.
Ordered to hold unit in readiness as many casualties were reported from the front.
Ordered to send Bearer Divisions of the three sections and three Officers to report at #10 Field Ambulance, M.D.S., Brandhoek, also three horse ambulances, five motor ambulances and all available stretchers (100).
Orders carried out. The detachment under Major Bazin, Capt. W.G. Turner and Capt. F.J. Tees.
Ordered to detail extra Officer and all available men and ambulances to Brandhoek.
Order carried out. The detachment, twenty-four men under Major W.B. Howell with three light horse ambulances and one motor ambulance. The men were sent up the line as follows;-
30 men under Capt. Tees to Zillebeke Bund.
36 under Capt. Turner to Asylum (Ypres) and Mennin Mill
Balance remained at Brandhoek Dressing Station.
The motor ambulances plied between Hell Fire Corner, Mennin Mill, Asylum and Brandhoek.
Horse ambulances from Zillebeke Village to Mennin Mill and Asylum.
The detachment worked all last night and brought in hundreds of wounded, so that No.10 Dressing Station at Brandhoek became inadequate. This unit was then ordered to open a Dressing Station in the Church Army Hut. The hut was very suitable for the purpose and in a short time Major Bazin had it fixed up so that it looked as if it had always been a Dressing Station.
Every available man was pressed into service and the wounded were carried in all day. This was remarkable considering the ground covered. The Drivers of the horse ambulances form Zillebeke village to Mennin Mill did their work continuously under shell fire and as this road is under full view of the Germans from Hill 60, it is remarkable that we had no casualties amongst these men. They deserve the greatest praise. Motor cyclists did well. Booth were hit while on duty. The drivers of the motor ambulances are also deserving of great praise. Their work was done also under shell fire and practically every ambulance was hit. The drivers had miraculous escapes and only two were minor casualties.
The whole staff worked all night and this morning things were quieter.
Capt. Tees and those with him have done great work. They cleared 1100 men in 48 hours. The wounded were carried about 1200 m. over ground which was constantly under shell fire. Some wounded men were killed whilst being thus carried but fortunately none of out bearers were hit. The dressing of the wounded by the M.Os., was also under fire.
Capt. Turner and his men worked well at the Asylum, Mennin Mill and up the Mennin Road.
This ambulance assisted No.10 Field Ambulance in its work of evacuation in addition to the 594 cases put through our own books in the past two days.
In all we had engaged in this tour;-
7 Officers 200 O.R. 2 motor cycles
6 Horse Ambulances 7 Motor Ambulances
3 Wheeled Stretchers
The following is a list of Officers and men who are deserving of special praise during these operations.
Major A.T. Basin
Capt. F.J. Tees
Capt. W.G. Turner
32713 S/Sgt. T.M. Brown
530504 E.C. Amaron
530548 T.E. Heron
530576 Sgt. C.N. Mayoss
530621 L/Sgt. G. Swainston
530588 Pte. J.E. Mothersill
530620 W.R. Strike
530569 G.W. Manhire
530664 J.J. Cedars
530589 W.R. Mountain
530568 T. McGregor
530590 A.G. Murray
530511 T. Barker
Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
June 11, 1916
Steen-voorde, France. With great pleasure came down here into France to assist Bee in carpentry work. Much mud and rain but it's a splendid distance from the war. S. said today he might be happy at the Front but he was happier ten miles back and happier still a hundred miles away.
June 18, 1916
A lovely Sunday in sunny France. Put the roof on the cook house then quite for church parade held in Sick Tent.
Down the street to see the people come from the church, a motley crowd. Women old and young, kiddies, boys and old men, soldiers, nuns, an old withered priest. Some taste in dress but distinct French character about it. That France was at war could be clearly seen. Widows in their long enveloping veils of black crape. Some of them with the bloom of girlhood yet upon them. The rustle of the crape, thirty miles behind the firing line speaks more loudly of the devastation of war than the roaring guns. At the Front churches fall, towers rattle down, men fall dead and are maimed. Yes and hearts are hardened and hatred sown but the greatest part of a nation is the homes of the people and here the rustle of black crape tells of broken hearts, shrunken lives, souls from which hope, comradeship and sunshine are gone forever. A child which might have grown up in education and culture must pass a life under the pinch of poverty and the dark slavery of ignorance. If war has a patron spirit he is a full brother of Satan and scatters, with a copious hand, all manner of evil over mankind. The evil which we have been least conscious of was that which came to the door of the home with the official letter stating that the husband and father had been killed. The loving, patient, valiant heart that struggled there with tears held down to flourish and support the kiddies. One who would not, could not, tell the world about that struggle or asking no questions why. Making no loud cry of protest. How much do we value life or appreciate the greatness of the sacrifice. Like heathen gods we have ears deaf to the cry of the sacrificed.
June 20, 1916
Still here at same job and same place. Lovely warm weather. Quiet and at a pleasant distance from the war. Troops and the things of war pass up and down, aeroplanes pass over on unknown errands. We hear that our fellows have returned to the Rest Camp and we can rest here as well as there. They are not in danger and hardship.
When will the war be over? God knows I can not see. Many a man sitting in England in velvet chairs or in France in some base hospital or bomb proof job criticise and ask why not go into a Great Drive [attack]. Those in the front lines, a hundred times more heroes, say it should not be so. Here is a fellow who was sent down because his hands trembled so he dropped the stretcher. This is the fellow most ready to criticise.
Situations alters cases and the looks of things. The wife of an ammunition manufacturer with fortunes pilling up in the thousands may rejoice at it all as one at a feast while the women in black, with heart full of bitter tears, fights grimly to maintain her family. How far can one see into each others hearts and enter into the others feelings? Each does not bother or has not time or desire to see beyond the border of her own home.
June 23, 1916
Walked with Bee to Cassel, a town 7 km away which is situated on the top of Mount d' Ecouffe. It is a city old and gray. In places grass grows up between the cobble stones and the houses press the poor, rough side walk almost out of existence. A single, lonely, street car stands at the end of rusty rails in the square. The streets curve this way and that up hill and down in blissful ignorance of geometric form or architectural plan. Little narrow roads lead down through arched gateways to other cities and a sign tells their destination as Le Poste du Belgium. The city has an atmosphere about it that reflect the days when cities were stormed with catapult and arrow.
From the top of the mountain, on which is situated a large imposing building, the view extends over miles and miles of territory until it fades in the mist. A pair of glasses reveals the cities of the coast and the ocean. A wonderful view over fertile fields lying on irregular squares marked off by hedges of bramblethorn, Salley and mixed bush. A road leads off into the far distance lined with trees.
The stores have a greater range [of goods], the people are better dressed and more care free. Belgian refugees are still met with.
June 24, 1916
The usual work. In the evening I walk out some 3 km to find a quiet place to write. Meet many Canadians, every barn seems full of them and quite a number of pasture fields are given over to their games. They chat with the people with very limited French, especially the girls. A chorus of the laughter of girls comes across the evening fields and you are sure the cause of it is the Tommies [Canadian/British soldiers] chaffing [joking/teasing]. There is a greater freedom here than in Belgium. Bee wandered around town looking for something interesting and talked with a mother and daughter Belgian refugees. She described their experiences with the Germans. The cruelty of the latter is as we have heard described. They tell of passed a house in which three people were hiding in the attic. The Germans set fire to it and the roof fell in upon the poor wretches. The Germans took 500 women and children, among which were they themselves, and marched them ahead of them to meet the French. They forced them at the point of the bayonet and 300 of them were killed. The other 200 were allowed to escape. This is a most unvarnished and true account told by these highly respected and well-to-do people.
June 25, 1916
To a Roman Catholic mass at 10:30 with three other chaps. It was Corpus Christi day and the church was crowded with women, children, soldiers and nondescript men. There was an ancient police man with a long, white, flowing beard. He wore a high Napoleon shaped hat brimmed with much white fur and gold braid, a wide crimson and gold sash holding a brass hilted sword, black clothes with much gold braid an inch wide and carried a combination pike and battle axe. He continually walked up and down among the people during the whole service. An old priest with a huge waist band from which hung a short robe of lace over his black gown with doubtful grace, preached in French. One could get but little of what he said but you could feel the thrill of his enthusiasm. One of us who understood it all said it was the same old things heard in every R.C. sermon. Where then he could get his enthusiasm from I know not. He started out with a burst of patriotism, calling on the people to pray for France and her soldiers. To pray too for the Valiant Canadian soldiers, pointing directly at us four, who had left their homes so far behind to fight here in France. Later he took up his promenade amongst the people at the back, seeming to read a prayer book but often he would glance over the top, with an eye most sever, to detect any bad boy playing in church. Once the book was used to slap the offender. The book I gather was to aid in the catching of such. The organ and music was very fine.
In the afternoon, Bee and I walked to Hazebrouck, a distance of 20 km. Of course we took the wrong road but, with the aid of a French phrase I learned the day before, we go in the right direction again.
We soon came to a village filled with Australians. As we entered, an officer with a kit bag commandeered us to carry it for him. By his complete forgetfulness of his clothes and his geniality we saw that he was partly drunk. He walked along by our side talking cheerily, offered Bee a drink from his bottle. He said You know I have been drinking but you can't blame me, I am going up to the trench tonight. Of course that was one reason we did blame him.
We got into the tall busses and away off across the country. Then, walking 6 km, we reached the town of H. in time to see the church parade. People in their best and the best of people. It seemed like returning to the world.
July 8, 1916
During the past days I have spent two days in hospital and many more days in which I felt like doing nothing. Influenza they say.
The Great Drive has started. The fellows talk rather more gloomily about the end of the war.
Last night Mothersill took Bee and I to supper. Lovely tomatoes and plums. Jerry H. got very angry because the fellows rode him in his bed and carried him bodily out of doors to the guard tent. He walked back as one doing penance over stones and thorns but he lacked the patient spirit. He was to be teased after but he proved so angry that the fellows had mercy.
In the hospital I hear the story of a Cpl. who was buried to his neck.
A report that mail comes through but once every two weeks which rouses much strong feeling until we realize it is necessary.
July 9, 1916
Had Holy Communion in Marqee with the patients who took it laying on their stretchers. Blankets folded on the floor received knees of the communicants. The altar was a table covered with the flag, a bouquet of white hedge flowers and candles.
Tried some water colouring [painting]. Went to the YMCA sing-song and a sermon by Mothersill on Freedom.
Received four letters and was happy for the evening reading and writing.
July 10, 1916
Refused permission to go on duty unless necessary. Read and write. Tried to find Harry Potter. I find his Regiment, Company and Platoon but no one knew him. It seemed as if he had never been there. Believing the address wrong I go back but meet a sniper of the Regiment and inquired of him. He told me he was likely growing behind Ypres. He told me of the very few who came out uninjured and alive, how, on that fatal morning of June 2nd he met his brother-in-law just for a moment after hearing his name called. The first acquaintance and the last for a shell caught him a moment later. He will be reported missing and so will many more for, blown to pieces or buried in a rush, their [I.D.] disks were not recovered. He showed me the roll [list of Regiment members]. One page showed the names of those who came out safe, a very few names of those reported killed, then some ten pages of those missing. No further information.
We are surely having an easy time of it as Allen says. A happy go lucky time if it wasn't for the danger. Yes, that's it. Happy if there was not so much question about the lucky. As happy as in this unnatural life one can be. Life in which nearly every action is under certain limitations met at every turn. Must beg for ones clothes from the Q.M. [Quarter Master], eat what is served to you and find no fault, spend what they give you, go where and when you are told so that to keep a chum is nearly impossible. In your leisure hours go where they will permit you on foot and if you fail to have a pass be liable to be held up and made a prisoner, lose your emergency rations and be liable to Field Punishment. This is a brutal punishment where one is tied up to a tree in the sun with hands above head, tied sitting on the top of a pole or tied stretched out on a gate in the sun. The happy and the lucky both are in peril continually. Still one can be quite happy and, when we get back with whole skins, we will look back and find we enjoyed it somewhat.
Here we have great liberties for there are so few of us. Go as far as we can, go to bed at all hours, rise at seven, go to town at any time, fine food and the officers don't bother us much.
July 11, 1916
I spend morning reading and the afternoon sketching. When I returned I was paraded before Major H. for being away. I was secured as the prisoner and, with an atmosphere sulfurous and wrathful, was full of the foul ash of coming doom. I felt the fame of inferred guilt that onlookers give criminals. The preliminary questions snapped out. Then, into the august presence, the salute, and Private Townsend, Sir. Without looking up the Major questions and ones morality is strained under the stress to choke back words which carry the truth but can not be said to him. Just in the field behind the hotel, Sir. He was fine.
Another search after news of Harry Potter. A Cpl. who had survived the 1lth Platoon and had known him told me the story of his experiences of the other day, but no news of Potter. His chum is in an English hospital and he might know.
July 12, 1916
Quiet day, little work, showery. Many stories as to where we shall go when we move which must be soon. One story has it to Sommes, another, to some base hospital, another back to Ypres. Did not realize this was the Glorious Twelfth29 till Bee spoke of it after I got in bed.29 The Glorious Twelfth is a principle anniversary date celebrated by members of the Protestant Orange Order
July 13, 1916
Pay Day. Painting tents brown so that they might be invisible from above to aeroplanes. [Military tents traditionally had been white]. At night I was writing. Sgt. M. came in after nine and ordered lights out. One kid, half drunk, gave him lip. He was only a disreputable Sgt. A slinger of No. 9 pills. Sgt. L. at once appeared and all lights were put out. I had to spread my blanket in the darkness until someone came in and lit up.
Roberts seems to be blossoming forth in a more congenial atmosphere. Poor kid. Nature has been unkind, has withheld either brains or something or slept and forgot to put them in. God pity him in his suffering.
Harris30 was partly drunk. His God is a joke, a jovial air. Good hearted chap and pleasant to converse with and witty.30 530545, Gerard Harris of Westmeath, Ireland.
Cpl. Martin31 is a sturdy chap such as you will see at prayer meetings of a Wednesday evening with his wife and, each day in the week, with a white apron behind the counter of the village store doling out tea and sugar with the contented air of pious purity.31 530572, Malcolm Ernest Martin of Richmond, PQ
Williamson32 still pours out his iron chunks of __(?)__ in a hard tone of complete self assurance.32 530644, Kenneth George Williamson of Westmount, PQTodd33 is the incarnate of the English Church. All things done decently and in order. A man who loves the cozy corner in a neat, urbane, little home.
33 530624, Frederick Arthur Todd of Montreal, PQ.Young34, the linguist, actor, artist, musician, lover of the beautiful, quietly artistic. The incarnation of a higher class.
34 530640, David Leonard Young of Montreal, PQ.
Mountain35, the devil-may-care. With a dash and without principle. He believes there is no good or wit in the world. Fun he would have though he must crush things. He has a self- assertive will, is vengeful and has a crime sheet and a promised D.C.M. (pending legal action ?).35 530589, William Robert Mountain of Windsor Mills, PQ.
Cedars36, a mild and would be boss in a mine. A man who has read some. Most sure of his original opinions, knows little of the width of things, steady. He is still suffering from the shock of battle on weakened nerves and is coming out of a sad reserve. Loves argument and the English Church.36 530664, John Joseph Cedars of Maitland, Ont.
Bell37, the loud, devil-may-care. Not so mountainous as Mountain. The fellow who shoals every body up and glories is thankless tasks. He is effective in exiting all traces of slumber from the barn, loves to tease Harris who swears lustily he will not get up until he has gone and his blanket torn violently from him, a cook, a husband perhaps when at home, here a drinker and a libertine.37 530516, Edward Bell of Blackburn, Lancs, Eng.
Jones38, the Black Watchman, conquering all things by force, a terrible self assurance, loves praise, is a companion of Bell.38 530556, Geo. Whitfield Jones of Longueuil, PQ.
July 14, 1916
Hear a report that we are to remain till the 20th.
Had tooth filled at last. Before, on some five occasions I had been turned away. Many women at dentists.
The end of the war seems an indefinite distance off.
Found a huge crumb [lice] which shouldn't have been there after that fine bath on Thursday.
The Major was away and I could not get a pass. Kept calling until supper time when I went away to sketch. A letter from Nellie waiting for me when I came home at dark.
A long talk with Ross who comes over and lays down beside me just as I was settling to read my darlings letter. Thought the houses would never all get built for he is an architect, had attended McDowell College.
Nothing new, just the same routine of meals, uncertainty as to what work is to be avoided, the thousand laws and euphonies [pleasing sounds] of corporals, sergeants, captains. Same unending procession of the things of war, Canadian troops, cavalry, artillery, infantry with the occasional brass band but more often apparently the bag pipes. The pipes still pouring out their shrill joyous defiance of any foe.
(Near Poperinghe. G 15 c, Belgium. Nothing of interest in this unit. For four days past there has been much shelling of Poperinghe. The days have been dull and therefore good for shelling as our aeroplanes cannot see where the gun is situated which is doing the work. Artillery Officers state it is a 5.9 and is probably on a railway line. One can hear the gun explode and then hear the whistle of the shell through the air and then see and hear the explosion. Quite a few shells fell short and were not far from here. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
July 15, 1916
Never expected to be here at this date. They say now the 20th. A glorious morning. Hear something of hostile aeroplanes, bombs dropped in early morning somewhere. Old Pop still gets it. We can hear occasionally the dull boom of a huge shell. The report is of 50 shells in today.
(G 15 c. Very heavy bombs dropped by aeroplane this morning at daylight. The plane must have been very low as it was so plainly heard. The whizzing of the first two bombs through the air could also be plainly heard. The explosions shook our whole camp. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
July 21 to 27, 1916
On Saturday we moved across the Y.M. fields to the bunch of huts previously occupied by XI M.A.C. We are disgusted when we hear we were only to be there for a day. Around comes an officer of No. 8 to verify the story. Next we encamp in a long low hut with straw roof. Nearby, through the field, ran a road to Camelot perhaps and along it passed people of all descriptions. Most were women, old, slovenly and ugly looking with crowds of children a little more dirty and slovenly. There were a few girls more or less pretty and fussed up. One greeted me tenderly. Good day to you dear. Coming to a brand new place the welcome was most pleasant surely. Beside this nondescript crowd there were a host of pigs, cows, calves and a bull that made the night especially hideous with his roaring.
Sunday night we had the concert by a Private from the 60th who had been the leading violinist in Orphean Theatre, Montreal. Pte. Young was on the piano. It was quite wonderful, an exquisite treat.
Monday, moved up to Poperinghe and met all the old chaps and the many new ones. Pleasant to get back and hear their tales of adventure and pleasure. Came up with an immense load of material in the big motor van. The supper at 7:30 after hard work made the bully beef taste delicious. After an evening talk, sleep with Bee in hut 10.
Tuesday, packing and clearing. Shall we take one blanket or two? On the one hand the prospect of a night of shivering under one blanket on the floor. On the other, three miles march with full kit and no unnecessary additions please. With great courage inquire of Sgt. King about my kit. He is now growing whiskers so as to make him look like King Edward. Dental Sgt. secured me to help load his material and by a vigorous pulling of the strings got my kit on too. Harrah. You pack mules, donkeys, asses, look at me going light. I helped Bert and A.P. with their two blankets each.
Arrived and back into old barn in an anxious pushing to get a favourite corner. Bert and I got in together with Mac in the darkest part. The huge blanket question was here settled, as all questions nearly, except the one, which was first, the hen or the egg. There stood a huge pile of blankets and stretchers.
Such was our arrival at Old Brandhoek after many days away since April 25. The dressing station is much the same in smells, depressing shadows and connections. The civilians are fewer and the grave yard larger. Every third day we are on duty, also every third night. The weather is hot and dusty almost as hot as Ontario.
July 30, 1916
Sunday. At 10 we gather in the main dressing station for a church service by Mothersill. It was pleasant under the shade trees by the hedge. The afternoon was spent lazily reading and talking.
Bee considers the army an ideal life. Ones food, clothing, tobacco, drink, in fact all, are provided. Your position is sure, you can't loose your job. As a child in its parents care we all belong to the state, like rather a machine in its owners care. What can be done to make it work well and be effective. Surely here the ideal of the Socialist is secured. First the first great layered stratum, all privates feeding at the same table, wearing the same quality clothes, receiving the same amount of pay. Fraternity, Equality is secured par excellence even if Liberty is not. The only passions which has not been exiled from our brains, our love for lazy hours and home. True, among some there may be a love of beer, good tobacco and ---. And among all of us a hatred for bully beef, cheese and marmalade except after returning hungry from a long walk in the evening and we steal it. But why should we toil and make perpetual moans over aching muscles, weary brains, unsuccessful competitions, increased price of food stuffs, changing markets? The warm sun shines and the grass of Belgium is green, the moon takes her sleepy journey through lazy night clouds. Let her be our ideal though every thing we touch does not turn to silver as it does for her.
Listen to the night guns boom, boom and see their angry orange flame lick the darkness like a serpents tongue. But they are far away and British and speak with a friendly voice and we sleep as if lulled to slumber by a mothers song. Someplace, some miles away in the German lines, the hellish shells shake the earth and tear rocks or flesh, just as the tornado waves suck to death an unlucky ship, only quicker. With a roar and crash the blinding flames turns the stoutest heart to water and ashes. Hearts that have grown strong through countless ages of conflict, with all that nature can do by starvation, storm, disease and by all that man can devise to afflict his fellow or by all that his blind, monstrous passions and ambition make him do. Stout to stand all this, yet before these hellish shells, our courage is as a snow flake in summer heat, a grass leaf in a furnace blast or a babies spirit in the land of the lost. But the guns were British and the flesh they tore was German. Every German less, that died, sent flickers of satisfaction, added a drop of honey to the ravishing appetite for revenge, made the peace hungered for by all that's good within us, come a little nearer. We can not see them die, they are beyond the ridge in the darkness there and imagination disregards their pain. If we had seen the latter it would have made the warm tears rise, our revenge, hatred and desire for victory still strong, we would have said poor devils as we shoved in another shell with compressed lips and pale cheek.
At 7 o'clock we went on duty. At twelve some cases came in, mostly walking, two or three stretchers during the night. One, wounded in the small of the back in a way you would have thought would have stilled him forever lay on his stomach, under his great coat, a stock of heavy hair and ready for any fun expression. He was pulling a cigarette and talking to all with animation. If doped he didn't show it. No pain now. Though whenever a medic approached a flicker of fear of further suffering would come over his face. Once, one came, to put the T with an indelible pencil to indicate the injection for Tetanus had been given. I was watching and saw him set his teeth as the pencil touched, then, when he found out it was only a pencil marking he smiled in a relieved and rather touching way. His companion was a dark man, dignified, with a greater age and experience. He talked freely of how they were digging a great ditch fifteen feet deep with dug outs as a home for soldiers, shell proof and comfortable. They had got on top of the bank and a machine gun caught three of them but killed none. Then he described how the war was in the salient at present. There is no continuous effort, just sniping, machine guns, an occasional shell sent any unexpected place such as the Cloths Hall in Ypres which they [the Germans] feared was being used as an observation post, Lilles Gate, the square, the roads at any point. One never knew what to expect. His wound was in the larger part of the thigh, very bloody and painful looking but just a good Blighty39. We told him and he didn't seem to suffer. He said he didn't know what had happened to him, a blow like that of a huge sledge hammer struck him and rolled him over in a heap. After this much of his story I went back to my lad lying on his stomach to give him a drink. Water he asked for, but on suggestion, desired lime juice. He smacked his lips over it. I didn't get my tot of rum today but I got lime juice he said in an appreciating way. Another fellow sat sideways on the bench. A slight battle wound prevented the further use of the bench. Another had his arm in a sling. This was the only bunch of importance during the night. Nearer morning I had a good hour sleeping.39 A wound serious enough to result in evacuation to a hospital in England.
Much washing of dishes, giving cocoa to all casual comers, motor ambulance drivers, men on guard, those of our staff, horse ambulance men coming in at all hours. The cocoa would get cold and muddy and the primus stove was used. The hours went quite quickly and the morning light welcome.
July 31, 1916
Monday. Something dropped from the sky with a whurring noise. Bombs, dead shell, shell nose, I know not, but it didn't go off and the sky seemed clear of everything. The hideous down- rushing noise of it made each man think his hour had come. On the sound, the three of us, under the shade of the old shed, woke with rapidity before unknown and sprang for the close friendship of the old tree. All sleep was banished by it and conjectures were made as to what it was. A new experience and we laughed at ourselves and laid down to talk some more. In the afternoon a pass to Poperinghe for bath. Hot, hot, hot. Dust everywhere near any highway where the motor buses, ammunition wagons and horsemen march in a cloud. The men walking behind have faces gray with dust, their khaki uniforms in no way changed in colour, taking dust as a duck takes to water. The water of the bath was warm but odorous as if from some pond long stagnant.
A lecture by a major in the evening as to medical organization and medical attitude towards the men. The aim was to make an efficient army as large and fit as possible with no regard to sentiment. A man with a small leakage of the heart remains at his post. In some few years the break would come more quickly because he was at the Front. Then he dwelt at some length with the two filth diseases. The one regarded by the men as much as a joke. G. [gonorrhea] was really the worst for intense suffering and violent death. Breaking out is spinal meningitis and other things. At first they treated them in hospital and kept them until cured but this took a large number of the men from the Front. It had become a popular way of retiring from the action. Making inquires in one part especially pested, women were found there who agreed, on payment of 5 francs, to give men their disease and thus a trip to a safe place. They are now doctored up quickly and sent back. They will, in a few years, find themselves a hopeless wreck but the war must have men. The other [syphilis] which all know is much more incurable and contagious. The victims of this have to be taken away for, from them, the disease can be caught by the innocent. It seems heartlessly cruel, this attitude of sending them back to the trenches but perhaps it is not worse than death by gunfire.
August 1, 1916
No duties but guard at midnight, the day without events. At 11p.m. I found Ford before the billet with a desire for company. There had been a story of spies flashing a light from a house window. Thought I had seen something in the open field myself when I was sitting behind T.[Tucker] and W.[Wilson] on their bed. With a few stories to start on and darkness one can see many things. He had seen a suspicious looking Belgian passing on a wheel [bicycle] and we really would like to catch a spy. We discuss how we would lead him to the light and strip him even to the hollow heels of his boots. A few yards away stood somebody smoking. We walked by, and, on seeing the English uniform, went on to the suspicious house. On the ground, in front of the house, water had been sprinkled - to mean something perhaps. Returning by these Englishmen one shoved me nearly into the ditch. I had no suspicion anything like that would happen. Then began a chewing match [words exchanged] between 15 husky chaps and the 2 of us. Canadians in general were discussed by them and especially Field Ambulance men who were all cowards and shirkers and whose place was, by right, the front line. We delivered the ultimatum -pass on or be arrested and did not wait for the completion of the story. We took upon ourselves, them not being sure of our duties, to challenge suspicious passers by. Those who spoke and swore in lusty English, passed. We hadn't even a tooth pick for self defence if anything had happened.
At 12:30 one passed giving the news we were using gas against Fritz and to be sure and have gas helmets ready for fear wind turned. We woke the men in the pasture field to make sure they had theirs.
In the hospital we have an occasional bite to eat, at 1 a.m. he left me and I wrote letters in the old kitchen until 3:30.
(L 18 c. Sheet 27. Asylum, Menin Mill, Zillebeke Bund, Belgium. Very warm day. Unusually quiet up the lines, very few casualties each night. Incessant movement of troops. This Headquarters is close to Hopoutre railway siding. Troops are loading and unloading here all day and night. Coming from the South and going South. All Imperial troops, except No.1 Company Canadian Engineers, which went South today. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
August 2, 1916
Sleep, got a parcel from Nellie. Duty at night in hospital. Very quiet night with few cases.
August 3, 1916
Sleep in a house in the field.
August 5, 1916
Came up in ambulance to the Asylum. Sang songs as we came. There were fires among the ruins of V.[Vlamertinge].
I am on refreshments and make cocoa for the Major.
There is little change in the ruins [of the Asylum]. There are some half dozen more shell holes and one in the room at the back of the chapel where I used to write letters. There are a greater number around the door way and court yard. A doorway has been made in from the back for ambulances.
August 8, 1916
Two gas cases and a lecture on gas by the Major.
Quarrels with Joe Plant40 and Jones over cooking utensils which I was supposed to have used. Reading, writing, etc.40 530601, Joseph Plant of Montreal, PQ.
At 11 a gas alarm was given and we got into dispensary. Put helmets on and sit there trying to work our breathing apparatus. The tube stung our tongue and lips, the chemicals our throats, the glasses for eyes were out of place altogether. A rather tight corner and an eccentric looking bunch with huge gaping eyes, tubes sticking out where nose should be, all shape of head lost in the grey bag. We joked, hoped we could soon get them off. The Major reported it thick upstairs. Later when we went up after a bout of breathing through a sack we thought we smelled it. The horses had broken loose two huge ropes on account of it.
(L 18 c. 10:50 P.M. Gas alarm on at Asylum and an Artillery Officer rushed over to say the gas was on. It could be smelt then in the Asylum Yard. Gas masks were immediately put on and every man ordered to sit still. For the first few minutes it was very unpleasant, but soon we became accustomed t the odor and method of breathing and everything worked well. We received great confidence from these masks. The bombardment meanwhile was terrific. Chiefly ours. I do not know quite how long we remained with helmets on (about half an hour) but as soon as the bombardment ceased we removed the helmets. There was practically no odor in the Asylum. In the Asylum courtyard the odor was very strong and especially irritating to the larynx. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
August 9, 1916
Woke at four dreaming first that someone was calling loudly for someone through the ruins. The horror deepened and at last I woke to realize some calamity. Those cries, groans and shouts were of dying men. I had lain down fully dressed even with gas helmet and cap. Jumped up and up stairs to meet guard just above, his face hard below his steel hat. I asked the question and he answered This is Hell and it was as near Hell as anything seen on this earth. It was murder with fiendish torture. In the court yard, corridors and rooms they lay, tossing and rolling on stretchers. In torture, sure of coming death. As fine a body of Irishmen as you ever met, big, strong, passionate men. Their heroic manhood showing out most clearly in these last dreadful hours. I thought I could not go into the room but I did. All were panting - panting for the precious breath without lungs to receive it. As the last moments approached - frothing on the lips with that whitish yellow flow. Some were already dead. These the R.A.M.C. [British, Royal Army Medical Corps] men were carrying out. Our Major, with a tank of oxygen, was going about them, injecting oxygen in one case, letting blood in another, studying each case intensely, his nerve driving to a high tension by sympathy. We began breaking capsules of ammonia, kneeling over the suffers to let them breath of it. Mine was a fair haired Irishman, huge of frame and, last night, as strong as the strongest. Now dying. In his agonies I stayed with him, trying to help him, but he could scarcely speak and didn't want to. He would walk then come back. Another helped me. When I had gone down for breakfast he died, going out suddenly. Strong one moment - dead the next.
The ambulance took away the hopeless ones. One by one the others were carried away. After breakfast there were only two left. One a lieutenant, a black haired Irishman of Irelands best, a gem among men. A poet at heart, among his last words were; He who has many lives to live, many deaths must die. Once he stretched out his arms and cried with a beautiful passion as deep and pure as angelic life. She loves me and I love her. Mothersill offered a prayer and he said Thanks old chap. Repeated also the Lords Prayer and the man prayed for a release in death. A strong and great man stricken, one could admire his every moment, the fight he made with pain, his musical Irish voice. Tears were in our eyes and hatred for the Germans burned strong. Hearing the sound of a gun we heard him murmur, yet a soldier, a surge is on. In his voice was that which revealed he gloried in fair battle, but this is murder. There was nothing bitter or ugly about him. He was grand. At last he went out--. Thirty one lay dead in a room, others died on the way down. Perhaps a hundred went through here during the night.
How it happened no one knows. Some had helmets [gas masks] which, being inexperienced, they removed too quickly. Some had been caught while napping. More came in towards night and the horrors continued but they were cleared out as fast as possible, only one dying here. I heard that many over a hundred died at C.C.S. [Casualty Clearing Station]
(L 18 c. Major Bazin reports that they had a very busy time at the Asylum during the early morning hours. Stationed at the Asylum is a section of the 87th, British Field Ambulance; gas cases came in in large numbers and over 30 died there including four Officers. They were all Imperials but our unit helped a great deal. Ammonia, venesection, oxygen, saline infusions were all tried without avail. The suffering was terrible to witness.
No. 3 C.C.S. was visited by O.C. and Capt. Turner. They had 168 cases there with over 30 deaths. The scene there will never be forgotten. The anxious expression of face, the pallor coupled with cyanosis of lips, the restlessness, the low moaning cry, the frequent coughing, (not much expectoration) and vomiting, the urgent and rapid abdominal breathing, made a picture truly horrible. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
August 10, 1916
After dark, the night before, we came into the mill, or rather, a cellar near the mill. Fritz was shelling the town at the time. About every two minutes a shell crashed in.
A report that a piece was blown from the brickwork just outside the Asylum. We packed ourselves away in the ambulance and waited five minutes for the Major and moved off in fear of what might come. Nothing occurred and we found a bed, some stretchers in a corner, mine under Ben Heap41. He would sit on his, over my head, and let his feet hang down in my very face. You remember what a pepper box [hot temper] Ben was. Touch him and you get a shower of hot stuff. Treat him as a joke, laugh him out of it and honour him with compliments and he would hug you with momentary affection which might end at any moment in a shower of pepper.41 530680, Benjamin Heap of Bolton, Lancs. Eng.
At seven there was a call for our squad to take two wheeled stretchers down to the Asylum. A lovely trip by daylight through the ruins. No danger. Wilson and I scouted for shell noses, especially valuable as souvenirs. Loitered a moment in the Cloth Hall [in Ypres]. A few months ago it was one of Belgiums finest buildings with statues of her kings and the dwelling place of her glory. Now it is piled in heaps, the great and wild poppies growing in the debris. Bits of German shells scattered about between the broken pillar stones like the remains of a worm beside the apple it had eaten away. In the great tower there is a shell hole, half way up, through which a horse and buggy could have been driven. The square surrounded by these imposing ruins was grass grown. At the east end, another public building with scaffolding in front, as if some repairs or some statue, symbolic of the nations life, having been put in place when this bombardment started. Further on we passed through the Mennin Gate which goes through the ramparts, a huge brick wall backed by a pile of earth seventy five feet thick and below which runs a mote or canal. This brick wall, scarred all over with holes where shells burst. Purhaps, when the inhabitants of Ypres built this, they were sure that for all time they were making their city impregnable. A baby carriage lay in the ditch. The grave yard full of imposing headstones and marble statues had been smashed and gored. A shield of inch mesh wire and willow wands lined the side of the road towards the German lines, the Mennin road, half a mile up a sign forbid us going further in daylight.
August 10~14, 1916
Guards [duty] every other night. Visited the garage with a shell hole behind which overlook the German lines. We of course we could not see them but, with glasses, they might see us. On a working party here one night we cleared away a pile of odorous rubbish into a shell hole. Occasionally a shell would come in near. Gas stand to [alert].
Talked with Welshman from __(?)__. Received a scare when a shell case dropped an aeroplane.
(L 18 c. 12 August O.C. went up the line to inspect Dressing Stations and found everything in good condition. When returning through Ypres a shrapnel burst a short distance behind us and several pieces fell on the roof of the ambulance. Fortunately there was a double layer of chicken wire on the ambulance and the pieces did not come through. There was a gas alert on up the line but no gas came over. Major Bazin reported that there was very heavy shelling in early morning. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
August 16-17, 1916
Zeebrugge burns. Guard every other night. Rats in our dugout. Trips to Valley Cottage and first experience with Aullets. See letter for this date. Duty at all hours. Sleep by fits and starts. Another trip to Valley Cottage where Bert and I volunteer because no other way could be seen by us. Trip on to Asylum with Wilson getting back at 11a.m. Considerable stretcher bearing.
August 18, 1916
At Pop., or rather at a siding, of which I can not remember for two minutes the name and haven't the ambition to take my diary up to copy the name. Great to get back where roosters crow, children cry and shout in their play and women parade about. In the evening a trip for shell noses. Went into a graveyard. On one grave a wreath of flowers and a card on which was written In loving memory of my darling, sweet heart, Harry. From his loving Rose.
Back to bed for a sleep to catch up. Very comfortable on the earth. See the 4th Canadian Division come up among which A.M.B. from Victoria. Have a very long talk with W., my successor, who comes out in this A.M.B. Tell them much re. this work and the conditions to be expected. They were much interested.
The name of this siding sounds like Hop Off43. Very appropriate because it was here we hopped off into Belgium.43 A little confusion here. Probably meant 'sounds like Hop Out' as in Hopoutre Siding, location of HQ, Rue de Boeschepe, Poperinghe
August 19, 1916
A day about camp and trips to Ploegsteert to concert at night held by P.P.C.L.I. [Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry]. At 9:30 p.m. we were still so far away [from camp]!! We returned at a walking pace similar to that under shell fire. We went into the front gate and, to be honest and above board, past the guard, but there stood Sgt. Major Whittaker43, a long personification of danger and --. We received a lecture though not over harsh and cruel. We crept up to bed as quiet as mice in the dark and slept with cold and bitter thoughts of the morrow.43 530634, Frederick William Whattaker of Dublin, Ireland.
In the morning we found ourselves on kitchen [duty] and many stories in the wind. There was to be a roll call night and morning on our account and what of public opinion! He had our names and would parade us before the O.C. Every one of those d--n theologians were out until eleven o'clock. Men who are supposed to set an example! and much else. And us - we declared it was because we were theologians. If only we had been partly drunk or up to something else disgraceful it would have passed by as a joke. The Sgt. Major had found life monotonous. The fellows were all busy and had forgotten his presence. Thus he was making his presence felt by starting something.
There was the disturbance in society caused by some one asking for physical drill. Various quarrels with Joe the cook so that I hated him and military life. I fought with myself for peace, happiness and contentment with poor success. The following days were blue.
August 20, 1916
The above was part of Sunday. Towards evening it rained but in spite of rain we went down to C.C.S. with Mac. Service in a little tent held by Dr. Gutherie, a very enjoyable one. Saw No. 11 Ambulance and hunted for Hamilton without success. This night I was very hungry and wanted bully beef and got a threat of court martial from Joe and much swearing and the fight as mentioned above. Stories as to where we are going for we are to go. They range from Calonica [? sp.] to South Africa.
August 21. 1916
A walk down the track to Bail-leul. Was nicely tucked away in blankets when a flash light switched on us by the Major. He declared that we had been ordered to clear the tent for those coming down and much of this nature. Kind enough though. Then Staff Sgt. Heron came in declaring the orders had been given and made us crowd together. With one eye open, waited for those who did not come.
August 22, 1916
P. asked for a march. At 1:30 started off at great pace. Past Bail-leul we have a rest much needed. Sore in muscles and feet. Then on, on, under heavy packs, getting sorer, until one had to hang on with teeth to keep from falling out. At last, when we were about exhausted, we came into Steenvoorde, to the old straw roofed hut from which we came on 23 July. There were heels actually bloody and needing dressing. It was a test march to see what we could do for future jaunts. We may march on our way someplace but for now we are to stay here for two weeks they say. All is the same. Chips eaten in same place. One blanket issued to each man and many were the semi-conscious groans heard only by the guard. How cold it was. The same cold earth makes hideous the hours of night.
(L 18 c. At 2 p.m. our whole ambulance moved off under command of O.C. for Steenvoorde, a distance of eight or nine miles. The unit marched well. One halt was made near aerodrome at Abeale. Not a man fell out on the march and at 4:10 p.m. we arrived at our new location in Steenvoorde, taking over a small camp from No. 11 Cdn. Field Ambulance, 4th. Division. This is a delightful place, somewhat small for the number. Twenty-two patients left here by No. 11 belonging chiefly to 2nd Division. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
August 23 - September 3, 1916
At the same place. For five days we fixed and fed patients under highest __(?)__, something over one hundred men more or less sick. Some were crusty and some were sad. Some delighted. Some get mad at beans for breakfast, always beans. One old Scot and MacIntyre had a scrap. Mac's ire was raised at his companion from No.10 Ambulance. He had a face like Scots we' ha' and dressed in kilts. A good thing Mac was Scottish to or he never would have dared.
After we got moved down to our tent the rain came and it continued to rain for many hours. During the night the canvas dripped, dripped, falling on ones nose and causing you to change [position]. Change so it drops on the air pillow with the sound of a hammer. In the morning we felt very damp and the rain continued all morning. In the afternoon I took a wheel stretcher to Bail-leul to D.D.M.S. and the rain, it rained, and the wind, it rained, and the trees, they rained, and the roads, they rained, houses rained, cart wheels rained, ones rubber coat rained, your boots rained. Worst of all, you know your house, at the end of your journey rained. My supper rained when I ate it though I ate fast. Burt Pearse loaned me dry boots and we went up to the wooden hut to sleep. It was cold but dry.
To Cassel on Thursday. A very great trip. We saw the cities of the coast and the dark line of the ocean with the smoke of ships, the sand dunes, over 40 miles of France. On Saturday a stealthy journey to Hazebrouck but this was on Sept. 2. Great excitement during the week because Romania came in [joined the Allies]. What might one not expect next, purhaps home by Christmas, who can say. Now everybodys happy.
I have not told of the fire which occasioned the major shock. Of how, when the parade [men called out to fight the fire] was called that night, I hunted diligently for a job on the water pail and thus escaped having to stand guard over the ruins. Nor of the daily little vexations and unpleasant things. Where officers use their endless authority and order one about as a slave. At such time one hates the army. Oh yes, he reasons, and as the consequence feels so cross and discontent. Not to reason is to secure happiness. Oh when we get in civvies.
We are to leave soon, for where? The Somme? Who can tell? Lets ask the civilians about town. I go to church at morning and night. Rain and carpenter work.
September 6, 1916
Tearing down tents and packing up. Tomorrow we are off. Major calls to me. I must shorten my letters. Worst sinner in the Corps. 38 pages a day and officers are not appointed solely to censor letters. They have to etc. etc. Why man, we don't get a chance to write ourselves. Apply the golden rule and write letters of four pages. How I hate it. Here is my liberty gone again, one of my chief pleasures. I shall become a U.S. citizen and get in the next war caused by Britain searching the mails. Oh when I get out of khaki is one battle cry, slogan, life motto and star of hope. When a fellow feels ready to burst, being so fed up, he can shout, more or less quietly, Oh wait till I get out of khaki. When feet are sore and muscles have lost all vitality and ache instead - Oh wait till I get out of khaki. When we have tramped all day without dinner and at the end a bed on the grass under a doubtful sky - Oh wait till I get out of khaki. When officers snap and bark and the sergeants are rotten - Oh wait till I get out of khaki. When one feels lonely, turning into homesickness and the spirit rebels against the heartlessness of everybody - Oh wait till I get out of khaki. When the mud is up to ones ears, day after day, the tent leaks and the water freezes up on the grass you lay on -Oh wait till I get out of khaki. When the biscuits are as hard as planks, the stew and marmalade and the cook gives us instead of food - Oh wait till I get out of khaki. Think a fellow can't write a letter of what length he desires to his wife! This for King and Country business is rather tough on us all.
I shall have to fall back upon my diary. What of Nellie? Shall the poor, dear girl feel more lonely still? But my spirit has flamed enough already over it. Still I had to laugh at my own sore head to prevent listing things. That night everything was torn up in town, no place to go. Slept on a hard wood floor of schoolhouse and was cold and thought much. Read Rosary, beautiful thing. If all love stories were so passionate and pure as this.
September 7, 1916
Very little work and most of the time spent sitting with our kit in the field. I finished my book. A last trip around Steenvoorde with Swan. A lady meets her friend in the field, she has been crying. Perhaps a letter telling of the fall of some dear one.
At nine we move off into the night towards the north, marching 50 minutes, resting 10. Feet get sore. Near end of journey at midnight have cocoa and some of Alices [his sister, from Ottawa] cake. Never tasted cake so good. We stopped in the middle of the cobble stone paved square and lay down on our packs on the cold rough street and sing our old songs. On again with aching feet. Sleep in a pile by the station where the ground is doubtful with foul smells. After the usual shuffling of kits and standing in line, we go into a cattle car and beds are made in a corner. Sleep in the rolling car when shunting is engaged in.
(Steenvoorde, France. Camp cleaned up and everything packed by 6 p.m. At 9 p.m. the unit moved off under command of O.C. to march to Esquelbecq. Fine clear moonlight night. Beautiful and cool for a march. Halted twice for ten minutes on the road after marching fifty minutes. The third time we stopped was just beyond Wormhoudt at midnight, when we cooked cocoa for the men which was much appreciated. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
September 8, 1916
Through Calais while asleep. Wake as we are passing through the tunnel entering Isques. Fascinating beautiful country. Entirely new to one. Etaples, where the sea appears, is an immense hospital, city of tents, nurse hospital. On to Conteville then off the train and four miles of weary march to Longvillers where we pitch tents and carry on a hospital for the sick. Tucker has a bilious attack.
( At 1:45 a.m. we arrived at Esquelbecq station. Entraining completed at 3:15 a.m. Men in box cars and third class carriages. Horses in horse cars, wagons in open trucks, Officers in first class compartments. Train left at 4:30 a.m. Conteville reached at 1:30 p.m. Detraining complete at 2:15 p.m. and unit left station at 2:40 p.m. Arrived Longvillers at 3:30 p.m. Tents pitched and everything fixed up by 7 p.m. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
September 9, 1916
On duty at the hospital. Conducting patients from dispensary to the upstairs of the house. A lovely warm day. Tents struck at night for we move on in the morning. A bed under the apple trees. Wonderful scene under the apple trees with the fire light and soldiers songs, pranks and talk. A hard green apple hits A.P. Wilson on the head. Not only his head but his temper gets sore and he reports that he wishes to hit someone. A dud in the lug. A great bed if it were not for the ridge of hills under my hip.
September 10, 1916
Woke at 5:30 by Sgt. Major who is hot for having been called by Capt. Turner so early for no other reason than to call Staff Sgt. H. He fumes furiously giving his unbiased opinion of old Chappy etc. He said many things not learned at his mothers knee or in Sunday school.
Up, pack, breakfast, wash and shave from mess tin. Go down to get a ride for my feet were blistered but there were too many patients and so I walk through France. Franqueville, Domart, St. Leger, Berteaucourt to Halloy-les-Pernois. A windy rough road through the dirty little French villages. The last mile at nearly four oclock was just all I could stand. Rest, lunch, swim and make up bed with Mac in a tumbled down, tiny, mud house. Late supper. Next day I found a host of lice, don't know if there is any connection.
A Frenchman asks 6 cents for a piece of chocolate which makes me angry against such robbers of men who have travelled thousands of miles to save them.
(Longvillers. Last night received orders to move off with 7th. Infantry Brigade, destination Halloy-les-Pernois. We are to fall in at rear of column and pass the church at Mensil-Domqueur at 11 a.m. Exactly at 11 a.m. the head of our unit passed, General MacDonnald, O.C. 7th Infantry Brigade took the salute.
Route;- Mesnil Fransu Franqueville Domart St. Leger Berteaucourt.
After many delays we arrived at our destination at 4 p.m. distance about 12 miles. Capt. Turner had proceeded us and arranged billets at a farm. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
September 11, 1916
Herissart arrived at after another march not quite so long or so hot. At 2 P.M. halted on top of long hill for lunch. See other division of Canadians coming out [from the front lines] and hear many stories of their diminished numbers. I find much and unpleasant occupation in killing a flock of lice. On again around a semi-circle and through a town to a hillside from which we see a vast stretch of country and the heights to the south of Albert. In the distance were puffs of smoke or dust coming above the ridge.
A little rain makes us decide to sleep in the barn instead of discovering. We are packed in the bottom of a hay mow but decide to climb up on the mow where Bert, Mac and I slept but where the rats did not sleep. We get water by a windless from a three hundred foot well with a leaky bucket. Wilson is to go on pass but can take no letters though we have had no chance to post them for days. I wonder through a dozen little apple orchards.
(Route;- Havernas Naours Talmas Rubempre. Saw 1st Division coming out. Arrived near Herissart about noon and went into village at 2:30 p.m. Men were billeted in sheds throughout town; Officers in school room. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
September 12, 1916
Off again quite early over the hills. An old lady told the fellows who used a few sheds for a bivouac [shelter] that we were more destructive than the Germans. Contay reached where we quartered in a large hospital for the sick. No.4 moving out as we came in. There is a city of tents set in a forest of trees in a valley. Scott tells us what the battle on the Somme is like. Not dangerous for the A.M.B etc. Wash in a stream and after letter writing sleep on pulled grass in a tent. Wilson anxious to post letters. A good N.C.O. [non commissioned officer] takes Bert and I from tent sub division for stretcher bearing.
By flashlight our kits are lightened of mirror and shell metal [souvenirs]. Park takes them. A supper of a hunk of bread in a line up of all the patients. Seems to our hungry stomachs a mile in length. The guns of the great Somme battle roar with no inviting sound. A hot time is expected.
(Vadencourt. Arrived Vadencourt at noon and too over from No. 4 Cdn. Field Ambulance the Corps Rest Station at 1:30 p.m. This is a large rest area, capable of accommodating 500 patients. It is situated in a beautiful valley surrounded by trees. All the personnel and patients are under canvas. Busy all afternoon getting to know the patients and their ailments and trying to improve sanitation of camp. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
September 13, 1916
Again on the march. The medical kit given us suggests closer work in the battle. Beyond the town we see German prisoners hard at work upon the road. We are to stay an hour so talk with them the best we may. What of the war? Yes over before Christmas for we surely are weakening. They have a cock-sure attitude which is a continued, unspoken, insult. I don't like these super men, though they freely talk and laugh with us.
Up over the hills made very slippery by the mist of rain falling. The horses labour hard with the lumbers [wagons]. A huge [observation] balloon rests in a hallow where bush hides it. We were in a valley with the Virgin [statue on top of] the Church of Albert showing hazily through the mist when we hear shell fire. In front is a huge plateau absolutely covered with troops and equipment and right into the middle burst the shells. A troop of horses break loose and run. Cavalry gallop away. Into this we too are to go and it does not look inviting. This is our first acquaintance with the German guns in Thiepval. On we go up the valley with dug outs and trenches in a very destroyed state. Up to the middle of this Boche field and rest on our packs while shells pour in. I expect one to come on to us and the same time fellows stand on the bank and watch where they land as if they were watching a game of ball. We are lined up by the cinema tent in the battle and apparent confusion of marching men, wagons and ambulances. No house or food for us and, urged by hunger, I break the Canadian $5 I have carried safe for months. The tent of Boy Scouts run by chaplains is doing an overwhelming business as well as giving away tea to the endless line of thirsty Tommies armed with old fruit cans picked up around the yard. The tent is crowded with talking, eating men. They have the terrible experience of the Somme to discuss together and often one catches the harsh tones of the story of a comrades fall. We hear about the tanks, a land dreadnought, armed with a great array of guns which can go any place. It sounded a fairy story that we do not believe. Afternoon is spent writing in the sun in view of Albert and its famous tower with the leaning virgin. Tyrell yielded to a common temptation [souvenir hunting] and returns badly frightened. While in the crush of traffic, in the square, a bit of shell strikes him. It seemed to me as if providence had hit me a kick and told me to get out of there. Apparently he knew he had no right there. After the cinema show we go in the tent and sleep on the ground without blankets. The surface is completely packed with sleeping men and equipment. A little cool but not so much that the reveille call in the morning is welcome.
(Vadencourt. At 8 a.m. Captains Woodbury, Tees and Ross with 127 O.R. and carts proceeded and reported to No.4 Cdn. Field Ambulance at Cinema, Brickfields. The balance of the unit remained at Vadencourt and worked at Corps Rest Station. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
September 14, 1916
9th Field Ambulance is chosen, so the story goes, out of the three ambulances to take part in the greatest event of the war. We were to see the horror of the situation. Taken up in ambulances through the crowded streets of the dead and forsaken half ruined Albert, making our way by fits and starts with great difficulty. Under the arms of the leaning Virgin shining bright gold in the clear light. She seems, in her war ravaged position, to give us her blessing as we go to die purhaps. Shall we again pass under those golden arms in a return journey? The question would enter our minds and work havoc there if permitted.
Out of the town and up the slope where the indications of a recent advance are obvious. Before the bursting of the storm on July 1 though it must have been a very quiet Front from the lack of shell holes and the perfect condition of the roads. Up over the slope and down passed la Boisselle on the right and the irregular piles of earth which once were the German first lines. The village is so completely gone that though we pass through its centre we did not know it was the place above named or any other. It seems as if giants had been at work upon the ground. Such an upturning of the surface. The Germans had laboured hard for months to build an impregnable fortress and here British shell and mine had rent and torn the ground out of all original form leaving holes as large as volcano craters.
We reach the hill crest where we encounter the 6th Ambulance and find our way down into the German dug outs. We wonder at their wonderful depth and security and are happy in the fact that we might stay here in perfect safety. No shell could penetrate to this thirty feet depth. They are a marvel to us who are accustomed to the tin and two layers of sand bags - built on the surface style of the British. What tremendous labour it must have cost the Germans. No wonder one wrote on the stone at the mouth of one, Six weeks it took to build this. Six years will not see it destroyed. The mouth is narrow and stairways very steep so that one is in grave danger of bumping head or arms on the side. The steps are almost dangerous with slippery mud, below the darkness is Egyptian and on the floor is moulding rubbish. The air is stuffy so that one has a nasty head coming out after a nights sleep. Around are all the evidence of recent battle, discharged rifle shells, broken equipment, mostly German, and all the filth and horrors and decay of such a place.
On the surface above the dug out lay 222 partially buried Germans with flesh blackened in hideous decay. An unfeeling wretch of our group kicks a skull with his toe. The dug outs all open into the winding trench in which usually lies the most slippery mud imaginable. The mouths of some have been closed up with an explosion and fire. From balls of tarred shavings it was evident the attacking force had burned the stairways when the enemy had refused to surrender. One shivered when one thought of what might be below and the horror of the death they died.
One dug out was commonly named the Chamber of Horrors. It was left unvisited by me but a number had put on gas helmets and, by candle light, explored its darkness. We did not lack a detailed description ---. Many Germans and British dead lay as they had fallen in the fury of combat. We did not have to go further for a number of A section took the advance work.
Rations were scarce and the YMCA was a thing one would praise God for.
(Vadencourt. At 10 a.m. the unit marched off accompanied by Captains Hewitt & Drinnan with 110 O.R., two horse ambulances and two water carts and arrived at 12:30 p .m. Took over half the tent. Our space in this is about 40 ft. X 40 ft. and is well suited for our needs. It is lighted by electricity. The other half of the tent is used by No. 4 Cdn. Field Ambulance for walking cases.
At 4 p.m. the O.C. went to the A.D.S. This is a large deep German dug-out about 20 feet underground. The stairs leading down are of wood. There are two rooms which connect with other large rooms. These dug-outs appear to be in connection with a more or less destroyed trench. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary )
September 15, 1916
The day of the great, great battle, when the Canadians stormed Courcelettes.
[There are several blank pages following this entry. He makes no explanation. Suspect he was too busy with military duties to write. During this period Canadian troops in the Albert area were heavily involved in the fighting at Courcelettes (15 Sept.) and at Thiepval Ridge (26 Sep).]
(Albert, September 16, 1916
Still very busy and the work is very hard up the line as it rained during the night and made the carrying very difficult.
From noon 15th to noon 16th - 14 Officers, 404 other ranks and 9 prisoners passed through our Main Dressing Station.
At 8 a.m. 25 of No. 10 bearers went up the line with Capt. Drinnan. At 10 a.m. O.C. went up the line to see about evacuation of wounded and found that the 7th and 8th Infantry Brigades had made considerable advances, 1000 to 2000 yards and had left M.Os. and R.A. Posts behind. The R.A. Posts were emptied of wounded, but there were more coming in. Capt. Drinnen, the O.C. and a number of bearers proceeded to investigate and visited every front line trench occupied by C.M.Rs., 42nd., 43., P.P.C.L.I. and R.C.Rs. This was a hazardous undertaking and many wounded were found. On the right of our line near Courcellette village, quite a few P.P.C.L.I. and 42nd wounded were found and Capt. Drinnen was left behind to look after these men. They were dressed and carted for and subsequently brought out.
The return journey of the O.C. was hazardous. A guide of the 49th Battalion who had been over the road twice that day lost his way. We were proceeding straight for Thiepval. The enemy commenced sniping. The guide was wounded in the arm and my runner, Pte. Mountain, No. 9 Cdn. Field Ambulance was also shot in the arm, so we decided to return to the sunken road. By going practically the opposite way the journey was uneventful.
The method of evacuating the wounded after the advance was by a long carry of 1000 to 2000 yards over shell holes. Confluent small-pox describes these shell holes better than anything else. The stretcher squads carry small white flags and these are fairly well respected. The carrying is all done in the open and exposed to German view. The patients are then put on a tram car capable of holding two stretcher cases and hauled about 800 to 1000 yards to the motor ambulance at the Baupaume Road near Poisiers. The horse hauls the tram by day; the men pull it at night.
Our A.D.S. is in the Quarries on the Baupaume Road, a mile nearer Albert than Poisiers. Three or four German dug-outs, 20 feet underground constitute the A.D.S. There is sleeping accommodation for 90 men. These dug-outs have wooden steps, wooden floors and are divided into rooms. No such palatial places in our lines.
Our M.D.S., is at Brickfields, Albert, about four miles from A.D.S., on the Albert Bouzincout Road. It occupies half of a cinema tent and our space is about 40 ft. X 40ft. M.A.C. cars take the cases to C.C.S. They are quite adequate. In this fight stretcher cases only are treated by us. All the walking cases go to the other half of the Cinema; to No. 4 Cdn. Field Ambulance.
We regret to record loss of Pte. Ray Fraser of this unit t-day, killed by shell while bringing cases on tramway. Ptes. Robb and Armstrong were hit at the same time. Pte. Herriot escaped. Also Ptes. McFadden and Dash of the 10th. Cdn. Field Ambulance killed and Pte. Streat wounded. We were all horrified to learn of the death of Lt.Col. R. P. Campbell, O.C., 6th. Cdn Field Ambulance. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
October 23, 1916
We have billet at Tineques [located 15 km west of Arras] and by ambulance go toward Arras. A wonderful road over a gently rolling country. At a cross roads we are unloaded and must march on wearing great coats and kit. Most uncomfortably warm. It seemed a long distance into the village of Ecoives, where we rested in front of the Main Dressing Station. There is a delightful absence of shell holes and the stories of the Imperial Ambulance promise a quiet time for us. No casualties in four months, only nine cases through one week. A very large amount of our kit is left and we again march off for we are to go at once to the lines while A and C sections have other duties.
We passed a large military cemetery which is rather disconcerting after our belief in the stories of few casualties. We come to a road where we must go in groups of four because it is under observation. It seems as if the road is not frequently used. Behind us the country is gently rolling, peasant farm houses, cultivated fields, woods and church spire. Before, a deserted weed covered land lined with the brown earth dug from the trenches. We enter a trench, wide, clean, floored with a trench mat, turnips sown in the parapet. It was built by the French and thinking of the English trench, we admire it. But soon the length of it begins to impress us for our feet were sore on the trench mat and our kit hung with an aching weight upon our shoulder. Around curve after curve, on, on, without rest, until one feels it like something in a dream going on forever. The force of gravity seemed to have turned malignant and gripped our little bags with the force of a hundred weight. After what seemed, by unprejudiced measurement, couple of miles, we found ourselves at the advanced dressing station relieving an English Ambulance.
The situation was a perfect one in comparison with anything we had before seen. Dug outs here excelled those of the Germans, as theirs had excelled ours at Ypres. Clean, fresh, roomy. A perfect maze of them and all for medical purposes. A tap with running water, rooms to store stretcher cases, everything painted or white washed. Rats are numerous. I eat my M & V rations with relish.
Tucker and I are left on duty here while others go on up to the four advanced aid posts and the two collecting posts. We are on duty at night. Nothing to do but sit around the brazier [stove] and read and talk.
October 24, 1916
Sleep, read, write. We question if a war is going on in this part. Only a very few slightly wounded and sick. Our fellows come down from the Regimental Aid Post for rations but seldom else.
October 25, 1916
Tonight slightly sick with a fever and headache. Do not wish to go down but Capt. B. sends me down in spite of my protests. The road seems dreadfully long and I wait around dressing stations needlessly long. Over to the long wooden hospital where there is no promise of blankets and it is cold. Finally I was tucked in and slept.
October 26 - November 21, 1916
In hospital and wants are few. Different Medical Officers with different styles of pills and ideas as to my decease. I read all kinds of books, occasionally out at dusk for candles and mail. Temperature taken each morning and night. Peaches come for heavy duty when I was on light, on light when I was on heavy. Lots of canned chicken, jelly and custard.
Some interesting neighbours. A Russian who would have nothing of a society where women did not work with the men.
Some week and a half before I was discharged Rae and I go to Aubigny [11 km SW of Vimy Ridge] and was disappointed with lunch and the town in general. Walking back with the feeling of sickness upon me. Rae discourses on Atonement to help me forget my legs and to gain strength. At night worse with bad aching legs. Move soon to be beside Tucker in other ward beside the stove.
We have a great walk to see the ruins of Mt. St. Eloi. Picked our way around the wide plain where the battle was, through the old farm yard as silent as a grave, the ruined church, the deep grove.
November 21, 1916
Monday. Discharged by Capt. M. [Capt. D.A. Morrison] and on duty helping Capt. Kenton with sanitation. The day following Tucker helps. Meet Major Bazin and ask about a transfer and receive some encouragement but Parkers delays it coming in spite of my anxiety.
November 25, 1916
Up the line the night before, conducted by Godfrey and McIntyre. The road they say is swept by machine guns but though it is extremely dark everything was quiet and we reached the cellar among the ruins. One would never have noticed it, as secret as the door of a rats den, inside quiet, roomy and comfortable. Little tables with candles and fellows playing cards giving it the appearance of a gamblers den which it was after the day of extra pay.
Work from eight until four and half a day on Sunday. Baldy was the cook having the position by divine right rather than election. We doubted his cleanliness. Many were the jibs made at him but, in supreme self confidence, he kept his throne.
We have to fill the water tank from the well across the road, a hundred feet deep, a half days work. Not more than two persons allowed at this well at once. Why? The peppered remnants of a wall was the best answer.
With pick and shovel we toiled at the A.W.S. making the kitchen with blistered hands and muscles sore but growing stronger. The dense fog allows us freedom to work on the surface of the ground.
Sunday evening Cook [530684, F.T. Cook] conducts the service and is morally supported by Tucker.
Often, at 7 p.m., we took our turns going for rations down this dangerous road we never found dangerous. Fritzy played impish games with us with few casualties.
The scene will remain clear in my memory, this Neuville St Vaast [2 km SW of Vimy Ridge]. The trenches ruined everywhere, around the cellar walls of houses and down through the cobble stones of the street. The houses are smashed almost to the last fragment, the great number of French soldiers graves with the steel helmet lying above and the wreath of flowers made from buds, the dead and shell torn trees. It seems a solitude equalled only by mountain tops, of the deserts centre, yet streams of life pass back and forth supporting the firing line. Rations and supplies each night, regiment relieving regiment, dispatched runners. Smoke rises in thin lines here and there from cellars where men live. A regiment is quartered here somewhere in reserve, a bath, a Y.M. yet at most you can see but two khaki clad figures moving quickly and silently along. At dusk the muffled sound of a gasoline engine drawing cars of supplies along the track or the tramp of the mule trains pulling cars on the same line. The evenings are spent writing, reading and studying. Our beds are the stretchers.
December 1, 1916
Clearing wounded from R.C.R. [Royal Canadian Regt.], a quiet time in the dug out. Many experiments in cooking which takes most of the time. Two walking cases. Two wounded accidentally by a rifle grenade. Peachy [530646, G.W. Peachey] and I go out at 9:30 a.m. They offer us a drink, scare me by lighting cigarette by the 60 cm track
Our Christmas cards come and are sent away.
(Casualties few, sick fairly numerous. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
December 3, 1916
Delay in rising because of last nights trip with wounded to A.W.S.
Smyth sick and comes down with Tucker and I when we go down for rations. The day passes with a little reading and writing. No cases.
A few trench mortars crash in near and a machine gun rattles at night. Snipers seem to be close neighbours.
Two hundred yards up the trench is the water tap. The firing line is half a mile away.
Have trouble with our fire for fuel is scarce. It has to be carried up in a bag from A.W.S., a limited supply and our oil brazier smokes frightfully at times.
We can get rum next door the good Cpl. says.
Mice go in for chocolate and pea soup playing cross tag over our beds.
No milk in three days, ditto butter. The problem is to make palatable Bully beef and canned Army rations.
December 4 - 5, 1916
Still in Dowset Drive. Last night the R.C.R. changed with the 49th Regiment. The M.O. [Medical Officer] complains of smoke and unwilling inferiors. We are taken in charge by the Medical Cpl. who informs us that we have no right to our dug out and that it was under the command of the regiment in the front lines. Grumbling we try to stop our brazier from smoking. Eyes are sore from the smoke, having a slight cold with pills and grouches, go to bed. First day in eleven that I have not written home.
The Cpl. gives us some sugar, offers us unlimited supply of rum and acts quite decent. Tucker and I clean the track and go up Chamerie [?] Trench for water while others go for rations.
At night the very sad news comes that one of the 49th lads was shot and killed by a sentry. The lad [on sentry] had not been warned that anyone would be working beyond his post. One story had it that the unfortunate man was moving about is a sap (small tunnel), another that he was repairing telephone wire in No-Mans-Land. The sentry is not to blame. The same night another man was killed by the enemy.
No particular cases all day. Tucker and I go to inspect Chesserie and Chepston Trenches to see if they had fallen in. Not knowing the way it seemed as if we were going into the firing line. Trench mortar bombs crash in behind us at some distance. The whine of the flying steel is clearly heard. Inquiring from a passing Medical Corp. Cpl. he directs us to turn to the left, others know nothing at all of the directions. Much bewildered and anxious we go on. To look above the parapet we could not find in our hearts to do. Finally we chance it to the right and come out alright.
At A.D.S. [Advanced Dressing Station] I get a parcel of books from Nellie. A man there is badly wounded in shoulder. Capt. B. declares that a great number of the cases which are marked accidental are not. The fellows are bewildered and at times mistake their fellow soldier for Fritz. Out of four wounded on Dec. 3, three were accidental. Sick parade was on. One chap feeling thoroughly ill came in. Pains here, pains there, veins of his stomach swell when working etc. Later we see him utterly dejected and fed up going back to the trenches. He felt that there was little mercy in the M.O.
We go back to the dug out. The rations were black because the last use of the bag was for coal.
Make pan cakes for supper, flour, egg powder and water.
December 6, 1916
At midnight we take the Cpl. of the scouts down. He was wounded in the two legs. The truck on the 60 cm line shrieked fearfully, one could hear that for miles and ... If one could only walk on his head in this country for no one minds a blighty in the legs until they get it. This bit of track on the surface of the ground with yelling truck was not comfortable.
Back at 3 a.m. Up by 10 and while getting breakfast news comes that a wounded Fritz was coming down. In the M.O.s place the medical officer, a staff officer and another questioned him in German calling him by first name, Henry. He had been shot, apparently through the temples, the bullet passing through his head. Asked if he had shot himself, he said he hadn't. His name was Henry White. He had a girl at home in Germany. Such was the limit of information secured. We took him down and I got a button off him. At the dressing station he again spoke with strength.
At nine o'clock two sentries saw something moving. It turned out to be a man coming out from behind the wire, moving as if blind. One sentry speaking in German directed him and he came to them. Nothing more is known. The sentries got special passes.
At night two officers and some 18 men worked their way toward the enemy front line trench. They passed a bombing post which seemed deserted and then entered his trench unmolested, walked along finding no one. At a sap head they heard two men approaching but they turned and went back. The party returned in safety.
In the evening the sick began to come down into our dug out until all the bunks were full and we homeless. So grumbling much we strapped our stretcher to the roof. The stretcher by the way was covered with blood from the dead man carried down upon it yesterday. Three other stretchers filled the place except for the corner for man on guard and brazier. The trail out lay over the table. We could not sleep. At 12:00 I went on duty and wrote until after three when all of us were awake talking about weather. One time I rose to replenish the fire. I had been brooding a little over the disfigured stretchers and certainly, when I went above, I was afraid among the war sounds and with reluctance passed by the morgue now empty but this morning it wasn't. Found out this at least, that if I did not put aside fear I could become as cowardly an ass as there is in No.9 Amb.
Fritz sent over word they had occupied the capital of Romania.
(Raid was carried out early this A.M. and about 4:30 A.M. seven casualties were brought in, none serious.
A wounded German prisoner passed through the Station to-day, bullet wound of head, unconscious. Commanding Officer, Unit War Diary)
December 7, 1916
Tucker and I go for rations. The medical truck had been used for rations and broken. We proved poor detectives. D. informs me it is a military offence and debates on punishment. Rae and Baker come from Major McKillip to tell me to report at A.W.S. I have misgivings which prove well founded. At 5:30 we both go down taking two patients. Fritz sends in some shells behind, near Bat'n. headquarters wounding two. In coming back we wait a few minutes fearing they might be after our trench. Major McK. indeed wanted me for my letter writing. The night before feeling duty bound to write thought there was no news, wrote some track indirectly hitting at the censor. Here it was handed back. Speech he made would fill half this book. Certainly made a series of surprises to me. I had a code which, though simple, was still a code and he would not take the trouble to inquire. (1) I was revealing the military situation in a way he would not dream of doing. (2) I was criticizing with injustice and harshness my fellow ambulance men, a point denied later. (3), I wasn't playing the game, a minister and a theological student, to act thus, disgracefully unchristian. (4) I put continually nasty little slams at the censor in every letter. A lovely thing, to sit up until 11:30 with poor candle light to get the lads mail away and get a nasty insult at the end of a letter. He was not the man who wished to --------- ~~~ --------
[This is the last regular entry made in the diary. It might be assumed that the reprimand from the Major caused him to abandon the habit. On two later occasions he attempted to start the diary again however the entries were short and somewhat disjointed and so were not included in this transcribed copy.
On the 17 Feb. 1917 he was transferred to the 7th Canadian Field Hospital in Etaples, France. His duties included attending to the wounded men on the wards and additional clerical duties. For the duration of the war he remained attached to this hospital.
At the end of Sept. 1918 he was given two weeks leave and proceeded directly to England and Scotland. The following letter to his wife Nellie describes his impressions of that experience.]
30 Sept. 1918
Im away! Were here. Old Mac [ 530578, Pte. Andrew Thomson McIntyre, born Scot., son of Eliza T. McIntyre, Norden Largs, Ayr, Scot.]. and I, in a billet in a large town on the French coast. [Boulogne Sur Mer]. This had been a factory of three or four stories, filled with bunks, three tiers, made of scantling and chicken wire. They have loaned us a blanket and oh I hope Im alone in it. We are locked in, as prisoners. May we go out for a few minutes? No, the door is closed. This with no courtesy. Twas raining and as cold as September could be in Canada. We suffered with the cold while waiting for the train to get underway through the tremendous traffic. We came this far in a cattle car running up and down it to keep warm. On the way we passed a long train packed with German prisoners.
Last night we worked all night not knowing my leave was through and today I had none of the necessary rest. I have fifteen pounds of money in my pocket.
This place reminds me strongly of Guy St. Barracks [Montreal], though not so noisy.
There is a very decent lad with us called Walker who is going to be married while on leave! Imagine travelling with a man like this. Good Night.
1 Oct. 1918
Waiting three hours for the boat. A good breakfast of meat rolls, tea and bread. The problem of last night was to fold a blanket about one so as to make it serve as a mattress and a covering as well. Tis marvellous what you can do with a single soldiers blanket if its all you have got to defend you from the unfriendly features of board, stone or chicken wire which are the usual foundations for a soldiers bed. A Great Coat helps too but when it is called upon for such service it shrinks in a most marvellous manner and instead of the long garment which binds around your legs while walking it appears as a muffler only for your neck and ears. Things always change their appearance at night. The other problem was a pillow. How to transfer shaving material, boot brush and button polishing outfit into feathers with downy softness. A towel, a pair of socks and a handkerchief on top of the tightly filled haversack did it.
At four I woke up feeling cold. Soon we were shivering. Washed below on the ground floor on long benches with taps. A line up and stand for an hour for breakfast, chatting with Britons from everywhere but especially with our own fellow Canadians. You find American troops mingling with us occasionally. They seem to feel as much British as the colonial troops.
The morning is lovely, the grey clouds are gone and the wind cold but the sun is a necessary companion for a cheerful leave. If only it remains clear for sight seeing the leave will be worth twice as much.
The man to be married is enduring the delay with surprisingly good grace. Mac says he has pitie-pat-tations of the heart. We eased the tension somewhat by giving our ears and sympathy to stories of Her and her history.
The news is good, never better in all the war. This is Old Britains way in every war she has been engaged in, after a severe reverse, success. The losses last spring were the worst since 1914. The news too is electric, a bright flash of success may come at any second. Rumour has it Bulgaria has agreed to the Allied terms. If only it were true -----.
One of the German prisoners yesterday had a rather strange looking deaths head badge on his cap. An English soldier asked for it. He scowled and refused, wanted it for himself. Wonder if our fellows in Germany could refuse? They seemed to be quite confident of security in the hands of the English and there was not the slightest show of feeling anywhere against them. Some Tommies joke about the Jerries, showing only contempt but do not throw it in their faces.
When we entered the station yesterday the crowd was faced with military police, one of each nation which might find soldiers in the mass of men. French, American, British, Portuguese and Belgian. In the railway yards, in semi military clothes, the French have engaged Javanese (sp.?) And everywhere you can find Chinese labourers employed by the British. Among the crowd of British soldiers form all over the Empire walked a tall, stately Hindoo with the khaki turban and peculiarly shaped clothes flapping about his thin limbs in the cold French wind. He seemed the most out of place of anyone. The yellow race was there to make money but he was there out of loyalty to a race so far removed from his own. True he was fighting for the independence of his native land finally.
Another hour to wait for the boat.
Out of the billet, in fours marched towards the boat, a line of men twisting around corners of streets and dock buildings in a way that seemed endless. One remarked that it looked like the British Army was evacuating France. The Expeditionary Force Canteens [EFC] gave each of us two buns that were white and sweet. Here was a confusion of ships and boats of all possible kinds. Traders from far Norway, fishers of Boulogne, the city from which we were leaving France, row boats containing hardy old French sailors who had spent an uncertain number of years on the sea and now were making their living rowing passengers from one dock to another. A confusion of anchors, ropes, supplies, all the apparatus of those who go down to the sea in ships. French women and children lined the way selling broaches and silk scarves and the like, EFC buns with the plea French bread fine which had no truth in it. A crush to board the steamer after numerous showing of passes.
The day was glorious, light sun whitened cloud banks and an Indian summer sun. The Channel had very little motion. If only the fourteen days would be like this! By our side, playfully kicking up the water like a bull dog playing in the leaves was a small British destroyer. In the air, three or four always in sight, the glistening cigar shaped body of an air ship on the watch for submarines, like great Kingfishers watching for their prey. I talked to a Canadian from the 52nd Regiment and an Australian Scout. The latter was dark, lean and wiry, just the type of man you would imagine a scout to be. He told of the Americans and their dash and curious humour. They are good enough for me he chuckled.
The high shores of France with the towers of Boulogne faded away into a blue grey cloud and then disappeared in the gold tinted white mist above the ocean. A few minutes later the white lines of the English coast caused all of us to stir with anticipation. Soon we were on shore at Shorncliff. A crush hard on the ribs and arms getting off. A race up the railway track to pick out the first train to London. New Zealanders and Canadians leading. Colonials are always ahead even of the crowds flocking to England. A newspaper here confirmed the rumour about Bulgaria and outdoing the previous day in good news. The war cloud is lifting and there can be nothing compared to the joy it gives one, to the relief upon ones spirits, to spring like quality of ones hopes; no joy unless it be that of the spirits of the blessed when the feeling of darkness and uncertainty of death rolling away. The paper contained a cartoon. Along a very precarious ledge on a rock face four persons were painfully creeping, tied together with a rope for mutual support. The leading figure was Bulgaria who had fallen headlong off the thin ledge, flying into the depths and Turkey, who was encircled with the rope many times would be pulled after in a fraction of a second and the others were doomed to come too.
We had buns and tea and in a few moments the train was flying through the beautiful fields and villages of Kent towards London. It was a perfect day for seeing England. Glorious Old England, the most beautiful country on earth. A shower of feelings and expressions fall upon one from history and ones British blood tingles with pride and enjoyment. No wonder this is the home of the poets who loved nature best. Wonderful old Britain! It is a garden of incomparable beauty. A mist hangs over the hills and valleys in such a tender way. It is a kind of grey, blue, gold that one seems to expect and know about from ones blood. The towns seem so comfortable, clean, homely and contended, an atmosphere of a beautiful fireside hangs around the red roofs and chimney pots, and about the window and door through which these kindly home folk wave and smile at you. You are reminded strongly of Dickens, Wordsworth and Blackmore.
My attention was divided between the news in the paper, the car window and Walker, the lad who was with us on his way to wed an English girl. He was a good hearted lad and it was pleasant to chaff [tease] him.
London. Crowds, crowds and then more crowds. Eager men on leave in great lines to have their French money changed to English. Watch relatives and friends with a suggestion of a happy tear here and there in some womens faces. We are taken in possession of at once and not by a military police man. Thank the powers that be but a good sport of a Canadian Sergeant who bundles us into a bus going to the Maple Leaf Club where we can get our cheque of 15 Pounds changed, a good supper for 1/2d. a bath, a room and kit stored. Mac and I dined at the YMCA and then later at this club. Had a shave and a clean up and started on our journey to St Pancras Station.
It was now six oclock and we had been in London five hours. We went by Underground. Stations flashed by as we wound along through the subterranean darkness. Crowds of all manner of people everywhere. In Victoria Station is a large painting indicating that from the most distant parts of the world trade pours into England and this is the heart of the Greatest Empire of the world.
Walked around to see the sights of London but only a faint glimmer of light showed here and there. You could see only outlines of people.
At nine oclock we got the train and Mac secured cushions and rugs. We hoped for the whole compartment to ourselves but first a civilian entered and graciously took as little of my seat as possible. The pillow was clean and delightfully soft and we managed to sleep quite well. Carlisle was reached by five AM.
Carlisle, lunch, rest and clean up in Soldiers & Sailors Rest House near the station, all for 6d.
At 4:25 we took the train for the north again. I fancy they would call this a Scotch mist. It seems to affect the Scottish people here, with their broad burr and their peaked caps shaped like tammies as nearly as any modern head dress, not in the least. They seem unconscious of it. They whistle pipe tunes and swing along as jauntily as if there wasnt a cloud in the sky.
Played with a charming kiddie on the train. His mother told me about Daddy in the hospital and that, though wounded twice, would again go back. She hoped his wound would heal rather slowly. They were delightful Scots. Very gentle and refined people.
Changed cars at Kilmarnoch and Ardrassan. At the latter place by just going around half a corner which turned to be around half a dozen corners and a mile walk, I found the Soldiers & Sailors Club. A most comfortable place with carpets, a piano, two eggs and rations unlimited.
At 10:48 PM off for Larges where I arrived after eleven in pitch darkness and Scotch mist. Any little light there was far distant, self depreciating, ashamed of its body, like a mediaeval saint. A tall burly arm of the law loomed up in the Egyptian gloom and I enquired of him for a possible haven of refuge a short distance from the station. He landed me in the Temperance hotel for they have such things in Scotland. The good proprietor was compelled to leave his bed to let me in. The bed was excellent.
3 Oct. 1918
At seven I awoke painfully conscious of rain outside. But someone was whistling a bag-pipe tune in so cheerful a way as is possible of such a variety of music. A delicious breakfast in the dinning room where there was a fine fire in the grate. Later I discovered the people of the place at least a bevy of girls flocked around me to settle my bill, direct me on my way and one who drove a bus took me to my destination.
Larges is a very clean, beautiful little town on some kink in the Firth of Clyde. You look out upon the ocean and a confusion of hilly islands and promontories. There is a flavour of poetry around the hills and islands especially over a high hilly island called Arran. Look at Arran; it is a deep blue this night. Those are the words but they are said in Scotch. This I can see from my window. To the south is a row of high grassy hills featured with glens and one single burn. There is one gleaming white cottage standing all alone near the top. Near is the battlefield where the last foreign force got his due in Scotland until this year when the Germans bombed Edinburgh.
The town is expensive looking and out along the roads, within view of the town, are residences of the rich and great. The turrets of Lord Kelvins house shows above the trees to the north. The Earl of Glasgow also has a summer residence near.
The house I am in [the family home of his friend, Pte. Andy McIntyre] looks down upon a muddy river and up a deep wooded glen. It is rather more humble in appearance than some though valued at fifteen hundred pounds.
The people are of that variety that make you feel they are not real but characters out of a book. The old lady is seventy nine and moves with the energy of a woman of twenty. She wears a cap of some white trailing material. On the whole she reminds you of Queen Victoria. She is saved from being a living image of the old sovereign by a pair of heavy black eyebrows. They strike you as black though they are tinged with gray. These, with her mouth, tell you at once she is not to be trifled with. The fact is her temper is volcanic and stubborn. Her husband died and she had loved him deeply. One of her boys was killed in France and another died. Still another, who is a preacher, adopted pacifist views and this she said hurt her more than his death ever could for she is a violent Loyalist. Her favourite Hugh was at the same time tossing on many seas in a hospital ship while Andy, the youngest, was with me carrying stretchers on the Somme. Still she shows no mark of worry and has a ready laugh, a kindly way and the most genteel manner you could imagine. She gave me a gracious hand clasp to welcome me to Scotland and Glenden cottage. She has one servant and troubled to call her Mrs. Higgins for she doesnt like the independent ways and ideas of equality the lower classes of today possess.
The house is splendid, just my idea of a home. Who ever planned it and arranged it had much of the artistic about him though I think it was the old lady. Great windows look out through trailing vines to a garden of carefully trimmed grass and carefully chosen flowers. It is very modern and yet ancient. The drawing room had a lovely fireplace of white tiling and highly polished brass. There is a piano, great comfortable chairs and cushions, a book case, a cabinet for souvenirs of all over the world and above this is a large mirror in front of which stands a clock in white marble and gilded figures of some group of heroes. It is rather difficult to describe for everything is just a little different than you have seen before. There are few pictures and these are of her various sons and daughters, one of an old Presbyterian minister in his study for she is a ministers widow. The walls are white and so is all the woodwork. There are some pieces of Willow ware above the picture molding.
We have innumerable meals per day, principally of tea and light biscuits. There is plenty to eat. Mac, or Andy as I must call him here, and I are using our ration tickets. A dozen eggs cost 6 shillings. They allowed me to buy a dozen yesterday to aid the slender menus.
Last evening Andy took me down to see Mr. Morris and his wife. He is a lawyer and like a wise man sought out a rich wife and his house is very rich and comfortable. It looks out from a nest of trees and shrubs over a wide lawn to the ocean and the rocky crags of Arran in the distance. The dinning room contains pictures of the great among his fathers, in oil with deep gilt frames. The old family silver glitters on the table and everywhere there is a quiet richness and solid comfort. One great room contains a billiard table. There are the apparatus of sport everywhere. It was the most beautiful rich mans home I have seen. Andy of course is welcome everywhere in these higher circles of society as the son of their old minister. The Lord of Glasgow admits the preacher as his equal in society. Every one treats me as if they had known me always. They are friendly, most kind and courteous. After tea we sat beside the fire in deep comfortable chairs and talked with Mr. Morris and his wife of many things. She had a little silken dog which preformed amazing war tricks. For food he played Mercy Komrade holding up his two paws as a German surrendering and saluted with one paw and when two pieces of bread lay on the floor one Made in Germany and the other British manufacture he of course chose the latter.
Back for dinner then the ladies told stories about the fireplace in the drawing room. I have forgotten to say there are two old cousins visiting. Anglicans. They are here with the one proviso; they must not discuss religious views for all such discussions ended in hysterics and tears. At 10:30 the Old Lady bade me a kindly good night, shaking hands in a most elegant fashion. One of these cousins is the widow of a clergyman and the other is a maiden lady who has spent most of her lifes energies in the service of the Church. They have some forty soldier boys to whom they send parcels.
4 Oct. 1918
Up town buying food with our ration tickets and returned loaded. In the afternoon, after lunch, we took the motor bus for a six mile drive along the Clyde. Lovely scenery by land and sea. Came to Wymess Bay and walked to Inverkip and up a beautiful glen beside the Kip which is a noisy burn deep among the trees and ferns. In a café for tea and our limit was 5d though on leaving the shop we could buy all we wished. As we sat with our cup of tea and two biscuits, on a table near were some gorgeous cakes of short bread. Not to be touched! I know the feeling of a dog with his dry crust watching his master consume rich viands. We got one of these for a shilling and nibbled it going up a back street to Andys disgust fearing it was not dignified enough for the preachers family.
We caught the train, found Miss McIntyre who was returning from a music teaching expedition in Glasgow. The evening was as before only Mrs. McIntyre told us of her life in Germany before the Franco Prussian war. She has a wonderful energy, is intensely interesting. Her memory is clear and she speaks with a strong dramatic face. One of the most wonderful and cultured people I have seen. Her likeness to Queen Victoria grows on one. In some governmental paper she was compelled to state where she was married and when it was discovered this took place in Germany they suspected foreign blood. No, she answered. Not a drop except in the case of William the Conqueror and he I believe was French. She hated the Germans. A lovely day.
5 Oct. 1918
Up town though it was cloudy and wet. Bought a few things. In the afternoon rested and after tea a walk towards the Brisbane house discovering ancient families, land tenure in Scotland and how these aristocrats had retarded the progress of the country. It was a pretty walk but it was raining.
For supper a lovely apple dumpling was the crisis [highlight] of the meal. Again around the fire and some music by Miss McIntyre which I greatly enjoyed. She no doubt knows a great deal about music but there has been music I have enjoyed more. [He is alluding to the fact that Nellie was also a piano player, music teacher, etc.] The gracious way in which the old lady thanked her daughter and laughed and talked was most enjoyable. I am inclined to love the lot of them with all their faults. This cheerful hearth and beautiful room will stay with me many a day. The wind howls and it is as dark and wild as any Scotch poet ever told you about. Clouds were rolling over the head of __?__ and up the glen where Brisbane house is situated.
6 Oct. 1918
Sunday in a Presbyterian country, one of the most restful and enjoyable days of my leave. To church in the morning. The regular minister was away ill through too much war work. The one taking his work was old and rather ancient yet with a considerable amount of Scottish fire. The church was built to please Rev. John Brown King McIntyre the father of Andy. A great brass plate shines on the wall in his memory. It is built of reddish sand stone with a tall spire and beautiful coloured windows. Within the greatest part of the walls are oak paneling in natural colour. The upper part of the wall is the dull pink of the sandstone. A lovely church, quiet, sober tints and rich storied windows. There are no decorations besides. In the window over the altar the highest figure is the Christ on the cross which surprises you in the church of the children of the Covenants. Still it is Presbyterian not more so though than St. Andrews of Kingston.
In the afternoon I took a hurried run in the back streets to see the poorer sections. Later tea and dinner followed by an evening about the fire looking over their family treasures and heir looms. Two china plates belonging to the old Dowager Empress looted from her palace at the time of the riots and given the McIntyres by some officer friend, ancient china vases three hundred years old, marvellous china dishes of priceless value, a snap shot copy of the famous pictures of Italy, a book of etchings by D.G. Cameron who is considered to be an artist in this line, snap shots from the Alps taken by some one of the family etc. etc. Everything explained by Miss McIntyre whom her mother teased about being on Old Maid. With regard to the latter she took it seriously and explained she had followed her fancies into the clear untroubled plains of lonely bliss. Quiet confidentially one had proposed to her after a weeks acquaintance and she had been bewildered and shocked. Her knowledge of things is clear and she is very good and entertaining. Later there was family worship conducted by Andy. I had conferred upon me the privilege of picking a hymn. Miss McI played and sang Peace, Perfect Peace and the rest of us without a hymn book hummed a ragged assistance. The Old Lady recalled old days and it was very fine indeed about the hearth fire of this grand old widow of a minister of the Kirk of Scotland. We talked until eleven and retired and I with a keen sense of enjoyment. I felt that I had been in company with the great and best things of life.
7 Oct. 1918
A stiff South West wind such that it made the people of the town fear a high tide would bring the sea up into the town. The sun shone fitfully and now and then the rain poured down driven with a wind such as inland people never feel. It had power enough to take one nearly off ones feet driving him into door ways and around corners. Did some shopping and visited a very old graveyard and tiny church down into the vault where lay three ancient coffins. To one side just outside the sacred ground was a pile of earth where they buried those who had died for their crimes. Years ago this part of the island was afflicted with plague and the people were forbidden to attend church. The saintly minister took them up the glen to the north of the town near the Brisbane house and there held worship. Here after serving the sick, dying and dead he too fell a victim of the disease and here he was buried. The spot is still known as the prophets grave. Two trees stand near the spot and it is said when their branches have so grown that they meet the town shall again be visited with the plague. It was in this charming glen beside this burn called Noodle the last Highland witches in this part of the country were burned.
We returned by the Esplanade and the waves were dashing high over into the road with a spay that drove against the nearest houses. Andy and I walked enjoying the strong force of wind and wave. We came home wet with our faces smarting with the sea water to hear the old ladies tell stories of how the sea had risen at such a time up to their house doing terrific damage and too how deaths had occurred and they had carried home the corpses in the quiet morning.
The Old Cousins from Helensborough on the Clyde gave us a warm invitation to visit them next time on leave.
At night we came on to Glasgow. Had tea with Miss McIntyre in her room and slept in beds 199 and 200 in the YMCA. A cold rainy night with everyone talking of the bad weather. Certainly they worry about the rain more than I. You just imagine it is part of the country and perfectly natural. They assure me it is lovely in the summer and I can well believe them.
Tuesday, 8 Oct. 1918
Andy went to see his brother in Motherwell. I visited the Art Galleries, just below the university buildings. I wish especially to remember the head of Milton with his sad pinched face, strange brow and lips and chin the soft curves of which might have belonged to a Venus; Plato with his luxurious hair as if carefully dressed for a feast, his downward thoughtful look and marvellous strength and beauty. A drunken Australian was explaining to his friends that these were pictures not to be sold and an old Scot was philosophizing upon the splendid physique of the Colonials. A lady artist was wandering about this heaven of hers.
Wandered about town and bought odds and ends. Tickets for Louise on Wednesday night. Saw When Knights Were Bold at night with Andy and had a continuous laugh for three hours.
9 Oct. 1918
Up by 4:30 and down to Ayr and Alloway. It rained with jolly persistence all day. The first hour of the day in the railway coach, munitions workers getting in at one station and out at the next. A little kiddie of about seventeen informed me she was working on cartridges and making 2.90 pounds per week. She hadnt the faintest idea what she would do after the war. Perhaps things would be as they had been before the war. There is no after the war for these busy war money makers. It is unthinkable, too far removed from life as they know it. There is no past or future only the war yet everyone wishes intensely it was over for dear ones sake. In Ayr in a hotel after an hours wait we got breakfast. A pleasant one of ham and eggs, toast, oat cake and a scraping of jam.
A street car ride to Alloway two miles away to the Shrine of Scotchmen, the birth place of Burns. This trip was a great success. It is a delightful country of small prosperous villages; pleasant farms and beautiful rivers flowing between high banks heavily wooded. The only rough land is the moors and the sea coast. I had always fancied Burns living in Highland country but this is some miles away. The Trassocks, the home of Sir Walter Scott. We visited the Doon River, crossed the old Brig over which Tam o Shanter was pursued by witches on his return on the Old Mans back from their evening in the tavern.
On the hill above the Doon is a very fine monument and gardens in memory of Burns. All pilgrims must pay 3d. to enter and within he must pay lavishly for souvenirs for they are very fine. Later we visited his birthplace, a white thatched cottage beside the road. In the house near was a museum of things connected with the poet and again we bought pictures. These I have packed and sent home.
We walked back to Ayr, caught the train for Glasgow and arrived at our YMCA at 1:40. At 2pm I was at the Theatre Royal seeing Madam Butterfly by Sir Thomas Beechams opera company. A very pretty, very sad story and the music was wonderful even to my uncultured, dull and boorish ears. A girl and her father treated me to chocolates, lending me their opera glasses and explaining the story. They seemed highly educated and very gentle folk indeed. They left before the agonies of the closing scenes.
Andy showed up after six, blinded after an eye examination and as cross as a bear. In great haste we had supper, a shave and met our ancient friend Miss McIntyre on the corner and in a teaming rain got to the theatre and into the Family circle. She knew many of the dignitaries about, professors, leading medical and musical men. Told little stories, gay and sad of various people in view. The opera followed. It was more complex than the one in the afternoon, chorusers crowded the stage with great floods of music and play of colour, comedians lightened the tragedy and held up its continuous progress.
We saw Miss McI. home and returned to the YMCA, had a late lunch and into bed with plans made for Loch Lomond in the morning. Rather a full day!
10 Oct. 1918
The morning was cloudy and raining so that Loch Lomond was out of the question. After much planning Andy went home to Largs and I stayed here to see Othello at night. Wondered about town in the morning. Went to Ibrox, a part of Glasgow to call on Red McNichols aunt. I found her a charming woman with a ready hospitality and great friendliness. It was impossible for me to stay over night so that I have her invitation to a prolonged visit on my next leave. I stayed for tea over which she asked The Blessing in fine Presbyterian fashion. During the meal her son came in, very much like Red, a lad of thirteen dressed in kilts. Could not find time to look up her husband in his office, came straight back to the YM and lined up in the theatre at 5:30. Here I read the news of the day until 6:15 when the long line moved in and up the maze of stairs to the Gods. Had the second seat from the rail. When one is alone like this to enjoy it properly you must have company; i.e. you must get it. Your possibilities are the person on your right and the person on your left and woe betide you if they should prove third class folk and old. On my right was an old biddy, very fat, rather motherly, not well dressed. On my left two girls very much taken up with each other and reserved. It seemed rather hopeless and isolated in this womens country. Programs were to be had and they proved to be ice breakers on both sides. The old lady was rather good and the girl proved to be extraordinary. Should fancy she was twenty one, quite nice looking with frank blue eyes. She had read Othello a day or two previous, knew a great deal about music, and was given to most serious thoughts and reasonings. The play was not disappointing yet there was much left out of the drama as we know it. At the fall of the curtain the people bolted keyed up with emotion. At the theatre door I found myself with these two girls at 10:30 and their homes were far apart in distant corners of the city. The one sitting nearest proved to be Miss McNeil the other a Miss Jean Turner who seemed school girlish and frivolous. It was a car journey of five miles but clearly it had to be done is spite of anxious protests that I would miss the last car. She discoursed sweetly upon Bobby Burns, the sadness of the war, the greater excellence of the Scotch, who were exceeded by the colonials and the Americans.
I have come to the conclusion that there are very many more splendid people in the world than we ever dream. Certainty I never imagined a stenographer would be so reserved, so well educated and refined. Well, duty done I caught the same car back and arrived in the YMCA. The secret of Glasgows winding street solved at midnight. A few street roisters were coming home singing doubtful songs otherwise the dark wet streets were deserted and your footsteps on the stone paving exaggerated ones importance in this the second largest city of the empire.
At 12:05 I fell into bed 199 and dreamed nothing about the raging Moor.
Peace, perfect peace is the continuous talk these days and it must come soon. The Germans are breaking up in surprising fashion.
All the fair land of Britain, the loveliest and most romantic, possibly the most heroic in the world, is alright for a holiday but let me move towards Canada at the earliest possible moment.
11 Oct. 1918
Mac appeared early in the morning and advised me to take in the trip offered by the YMCA to visit the ship building yards. A stately old gent led twenty of us on board the car and through a maze of streets. We were taken near that part of Glasgow visited yesterday when I called on McFarlanes. We were admitted through the offices into a building where huge hammers were crashing down upon great blocks of red hot iron and huge cranes moved by means of some electric power swung gigantic pieces of metal about. Here was a pile of thin pieces of wood covered with markings which were the patterns for various parts and great punches moved up and down with a mighty tooth punching holes through half-inch steel plate with as much lazy composure as cows chew their cuds in the evening. There was a framework of a ship in the drydocks and the plating was being riveted into place. Further out the largest crane in the world reached its arm over a torpedo boat destroyer under repair and below with some electric mechanism a crowd of men were riveting or fusing some plating about a submarine making a deafening din and blinding display of sparks. In another room moulds were being made in one great hole in the floor lined with bricks and clay. A soldier remarked tis a dug-out. Pieces of red hot iron and brass lay about the floor as innocently as crumbs in the dining room after dinner. Another building contained machines for shaping these blocks into the required form. There was a propeller as large in diameter as a windmill. There seemed no lack of men and the grater numbers of them took life easy. It seemed as if they were on a picnic rather than building in the greatest docks in the world. Some of them were working strenuously. Women were not doing anything requiring more physical strength than a boy of thirteen and there were not very many, scarcely a tenth of the workers.
Fell in with a Canadian from Ottawa coming back. Had dinner with Andy in the YMCA after which he parted for home for we decided that although the day was quite fine we had not sufficient time to see the...(?).
Went about on my own until five when I took trains for Berwick-on-Tweed. The train was crammed and I got only a tiny bit of a seat among a minister with his glittering family who were sure they were grand folk. They werent bad sports though for after I had surrendered my position on the seat to a tiny old lady and retreated to the passage the ministers wife flung me her paper with a smile. Fell in with an old Johnnie of a sea captain. Rather a crusty old soul but he told me about the Russians and his experiences with the Bolsheviks on the Archangel coast. Described the wretched condition of money in Russia and showed me some bills in present use which he was sure had no relation to gold or silver and had been printed in Germany as pretty labels are made for cans of tinned tomatoes. At Edinburgh had a wait of three quarters of an hour. The station looked familiar from last year. Here I found a seat with an Australian and we had a pleasant chat on all manner of things. At Berwick I dropped off into the darkness. There wasnt the light that a firefly could make anywhere but a boy on business bent lead me to a free lunch counter and later to some philanthropic one who told us to put up in the Woods Hotel. Had found another Australian and he went with me. The town seemed small and rural, a few noisy soldiers and a stray girl of uncertain ways and a few boys were the only persons on the dark streets. At Woods we got a fine bed each for 2 shillings each and breakfast at the same price.
12 Oct. 1918
The Aussie and I went to explore the town after our breakfast of hegg &am and a glance at the paper which I secured at the only place where they were sold in town. I was allowed but one and the name of that I had never heard of before. At the gateway, which is built over the main street, we got to the top of the wall and had a lovely view by sea and land of strange old romantic places. The wall built in the days of Good Queen Bess surrounded the greater part of the town. Here and there were the barred doors of subterranean passages and rooms for the soldiery which had fallen in. Guns had been mounted on high points facing the sea. Between the wall and the sea to the East was a stretch of matchless green pasture land and an old shepherd speaking the Tweedmouth dialect which was a barbarous tongue to me. He was shouting orders to his boy and dog. It was a lovely day. To the West some two miles stretched the railroad bridge built high in the air over the river with great arches of pink tinted stone and far out into the sea along the pier stood a lighthouse. The town was on a high hill, the site had been chosen clearly because it was good for defence in the days of long ago. Near the station were the high ruins of part of the wall of King Edward. At 10:30 I found T. Wigston, a jeweller and had a short talk with him. He remembered that I was to have visited them on the pervious year and expressed regret that his wife was away but would be back that night and I must spend some time with them. Perhaps it was because of the temporary widowerhood that prevented him asking me to stay with them that day. Then too his wife had been attending the funeral of her sister.
Slightly after eleven I found No1 Summerhill Terrace and Miss K. Bishop at home. Sgt. Ironsides, a camp follower of the redoubtable Miss K. Bishop came in at the same time and three of us went down street to meet Mr. J. Bishop and his brother in their Sweetie shop. Sgt. I. was on business bent and my hostess took me as far as the pier for a walk. We returned to their house and met the likewise redoubtable Miss T. Bishop and their wee brother. My host appeared for lunch and after we had tea in a shop down town and saw Miss T. Bishop depart on the train. A Miss Brigand arrived. A very quiet school marm and stayed until the following day.
Miss K. Bishop was to give her paper on Red Cross work in the Presbyterian Church at a literary meeting on Monday night and half the people we met were looking forward to this lecture by Miss K. Bishop. R.R.C. and ex V.D who had already brought much honour to their town and this required nearly all her time. With Mr Bishop I had some great discussions and he showed me around his rooms where he kept all his geological, zoological and other scientific curios with as much delight as a child in a newly built play house or as a poet reading to you his favourite poems. A charming old man with his eye wide open to all in the world in spite of his keen delight in books. He was about fifty but scarcely a business man. He gives splendid lectures at literary meetings and is the head man over the museum.
My position was Eddie Arrols friend and a soldier of Canada. Their natural kindness took me in and gave me a taste of home that for which every soldier of the war in France longs. There were quiet evenings beside the glorious coal fire in the open grate, dainty meals and absolute comfort. Hot water bottle in my bed at night, shoes cleaned by the servant, great talks upon scientific subjects.
Miss K. Bishop I have described already long ago and Miss T. Bishop is rather a merry soul slightly younger than her sister who boasts of 29 years but is not so wise or efficient or venturesome. Didnt see so much of her for she was away Saturday night and Sunday. The lad was a gentle little fellow of 16 already with a collection of rocks. Miss T. Bishop has an eye open to catch an officer but she hasnt as yet been caught. The most sinful thing I saw them do was one evening when in the kitchen Miss T. Bishop started to smoke a cigarette but showing no great familiarity with it. When her father came in she slipped it into my hand though he must have known I did not indulge. The only thing I could do to save the situation was to take a puff and then throw it in the grate. He is a most gentle soul and though they speak of him playfully they love him intensely and have a great fear of his displeasure.
They are neither Scotch nor English but are a very gentle interesting folk. Glad I met them.
13 Oct. 1918
A glorious morning. Mr. J. Bishop poured forth the wrath of his soul upon the Kaiser during breakfast. He went for a walk of scientific interest beside the sea. I did nothing but rest until afternoon when I went to Wigston's for tea. They also had a fire in the grate and their table was loaded with good things and two lovely dishes of flowers. I found Tom Wigston in khaki for he belongs to some kind of a reserve and they had been shooting but hearing the rumour that Germany had accepted the terms of complete surrender they threw down their arms and came home. He is not quite so prosperous as Dave led me to think and he has no idea of new fields of adventure. There is not the calm in his nature that Dave processes. His favourites are short hand writing and mountain climbing. Mrs. B. was a dark good natured woman who declared she had no education except in cooking. Two children, a girl of fourteen and a boy (Lancelot) of about twelve. The girl seemed especially bright; the boy had more of his mothers colour and nature. This was Sunday night and they wished to go to church and I had planned to leave on the 8:40 train so that I left them at six. Had a pitch battle with Mr. J. Bishop over the question of a historic Jesus Christ and he would have argued yet if I had not seen how objectionable such a contest was to the others and evaded him.
We all went down to see Sgt. Ironsides away and there I met Mrs. Ironsides, his mother, who had prepared two parcels for me, one of fruit, the other of cakes, etc. for the train journey. She gave me a very pressing invitation to visit them next time though I had never seen them before. There was a large circle of girls and he was compelled to bid farewell to the lot in a way that would not have suited the cold North Canadian nature in me. The comfort of the place and their perfect hospitality tempted me to stay until morning. Then Mr Bishop suggested I say and hear Miss K.Bs paper. It meant I would not meet Andy in London Monday and get in that city just when my train should leave for France. The authorities are inclined to pardon men a bit late if travelling from Scotland so that the prospect of an extra days leave was an additional inducement. Decided to stay and spend the evening beside the fire with the family. Retired late to my last rest in a real bed.
14 Oct. 1918
Monday. Met Miss T. Bishop at train and walked with her down to her work at the Orderly Room in the barracks. Sent a telegram to Andy and did some shopping. Sent parcel home and helped Miss K. Bishop with her paper. At dusk took a walk along the river Tweed and saw a train pass over the high stone bridge with the moonlight on the water. Miss B. told me how, when walking with Eddie once, they had passed a couple who were apparently very fond of one another. The old joker remarked The poor things, if makes one feel they are in trouble and one should go to their assistance.
They treated me as if they had known me always and I could treat them in the same way. With regard to facts this was true for Eddie had told me of them and them of me. They called me Frank.
At eight we were all at the hall which was packed and then crammed to hear the paper about the hospital in France. The minister and Mr Bishop invited me to speak but it didnt appeal to me. Returned by nine.
Had dinner and away on the 11:20 train with pressing invitation to return on my next leave. If I should visit all the people who have invited me I should require a year of time. They seem never to weary of entertaining the Canadians. Out of this beautiful home life I stepped back into Army discomfort for the train was crowded, even the standing room was occupied with soldiers kits and men lying about. Still at New Castle I got a seat and slept on the window ledge in a compartment containing three soldiers and an rude English girl who slept on top of me. That describes at least the crush conditions I was in when I awoke. Still, one must not complain, it is the war.
15 Oct. 1918
The train was an hour late. Got into London by 8:30 and after travelling from Kings Cross station to Victoria Station by Tube and bus. Got in touch with the police who informed me I had still 24 hours to get back to my unit and there was no cause for worry. At the Salvation Army I secured a bed for the night feeling sadly in need of a bath and finally to my horror I found myself as lousy as a pet coon. Hadnt felt them before and can not understand where they came from unless the Y.M. at Glasgow or more likely the Woods hotel. But I never dreamed of having such critters at the homes where I had stayed for I hadnt seen any for a year. I hope I have all I had!!! The situation is decidedly fearful to think upon.
All day spent about London alone. Went past the Parliament Buildings to Trafalgar Square where they had an imitation of a French village in ruins by the instrumentality of the Hun and a great Feed the Guns campaign on to secure money for the war. Into Leicester square for Hays market intending to see The Maid of the Mountain at Daleys Theatre but my appetite for pleasure had been so satisfied that 4 ½ shillings for standing room did not appeal to me. At all the other theatres about were long queues and the cheapest seat 3 shillings. I walked until I had a blister on my little toe feeling very lonely and up against it in the great city where beggars, poverty and wretchedness in constant contrast to richness and flourishing pleasure face one on every side. A man with both arms without hands stealthily passed a hat along a line going into a theatre and good souls dropped coopers into it. A blind woman stood begging silently, another man very much down at heel displayed some large pictures done in coloured chalk with a most delicate finish asked for pennies for his wife and three children. A wretchedly dressed old blind man had an accordion playing in all this confusion the soul finding notes of Jesus Lover of My Soul. A sad man with grey Prince Albert whiskers and tall silk hat declared he was some business man or other with a temporary embarrassment and would I give him six pence, a slovenly woman called to me not to hurry, hard faced women screamed a continuous Cards for sale. A drunken soldier stopped me thinking I was one of those generous colonials, declaring he was a deserter and his wife was dying or something. On the towering monument of Lord Nelson was a huge sign Feed the Guns and an endless stream of people passed beneath to feed these guns. There was, in the rear, some houses representing peasant cottages ruined by the Hun. To the pacifist of course, that destruction might have been wrought by these guns that were being fed. Whether it was a mood or something more permanent I hated London.
Returned to Victoria Street and Grovesnor Gardens where the hostel was. Wrote some letters, had supper and walked to the Themes embankment. This was supposed to be the most tragic places in London. From the rivers edge one had a wonderful view of the lights of London such as they are in these dark days. Ships, cars, and omnibuses, towers, avenues each had their lights expressing intense business and a rather hard hurried pleasure. Got back by 7:30 and into bed intending to get the worth of my 7 pence the cost of the bed for the night.
16 Oct. 1918
Up at five, breakfast of two eggs, tea and bread. At the station a host moved onto the train. Lady relatives stood here and there with their soldiers who were returning again to France. One isnt amused at such an hour and such a time. The best he can do is buy a paper and have it out with the Kaiser in his heart and these days when his armies are running for it and they are talking of disposing of him in some way the paper is directly in harmony with ones spirit. You sit there, then in the corner of your coach mentally making faces at the Kaiser and confounding him and all his crew. In Britain I have heard especially elderly ladies plan tortures for him which would make an Iroquois chief green with envy. One wished him to be put in a barrel filled with sharp spikes and rolled down endless miles of hill; another wanted him in a small cage which would be sent to every town and village in Britain so that each woman could poke at him with her umbrella. The gentle Mr. Bishop would have liked him in the arms of a devil fish for an hour each day for the length of time the war had lasted at least.
But I was on my way back to France.
We ended up at Dover instead of Folkstone as we expected and were marched far up the hill to some old fortress, into a dingy room where one could sit quietly on the floor. Here I wrote from page 50 in this diary and thus passed the time quite pleasantly. At 12:30 dinner and I was faced with the problem of eating as my far distant ancestors for I had no instruments only a tiny pen knife. There was boiled potatoes and stew, bread without butter and tea. I managed the potatoes. From the top of the walls we could overlook all the harbour and the town. There were the white cliffs which Caesar saw from the coast of France. I dont blame him much for being attracted and having a trip across to see what they were like. Instead of the water filling the moat below the walls of the fort there were lines of barb wire entanglements. Apparently we had thought it just possible the Germans might try a landing some night. I was standing about a hundred and fifty feet above the ocean so that the view was splendid.
At 1:15 we fell in and marched down the winding road into the town dirty enough for the back streets of France. At 3 we were on board a small transport and on our way somewhere. We fancied Calais but after three hours on the water the harbour lights, yellow green and red of the same city from which we had left France.
On the boat I met Georgesson who had left No. 7 the same day. He is an old bald headed man with a few stray hairs of a reddish straw colour, speaking very poor English for his birthplace was Sweden. He reminds one of an old turkey hen, distressed with family cares during the late summer. Still he belonged to my unit and company and is good hearted, very sensible in the fact he did not get married while on leave... Met Jackson this morning too. He had been wedded in Ayr. Nearly all the men who have reached that lonely dreamless land beyond 30 get married on leave. With a father just dead and a wife just obtained he had sufficient capital to ask the OOC and thus had been away three weeks.
With Georgesson and his continuous smoking and yaw, yaw, for conversation I marched along with some thousands of leave returning ones along a path bordered not with flowers but the red caps of military police. We were prisoners.
French people lined our way offering apples, beer and grapes for sale. Some whispered they would give us a bed for the night. Onto a great plane we were marched. Here there seemed to be thousands of men and great daring gas lights relieved the darkness. Some officer with a far reaching voice was calling out names of French towns. He was separating the men as to the towns they must take to reach their destination. It was very impressive indeed.
Finally we were weeded out and marched off to a hut on the floor of which we were to sleep. Supper was served but stew without a plate or fork and spoon did not appeal to me. We went to the Y.M. but it was closed. A kindly minister who was the genius of the place refused my plea; he turned the hungry from his door in quite unchristian fashion, quite overpowered with the thousands which continually flood through St. Martins Camp.
At the E.F.C. canteen we got a can of Canadian corn, borrowed a spoon and ate part of the lunch the Bishops had given me, the old turkey and I eating out of the same spoon.
Returned to the hut and hunted for blankets for they had all been snatched up a few moments before. Got one each finally and made up a bed on the floor! My blanket below and Georgesson's above and our overcoats. Who was the last possessor of the blanket, what the floor contained was not of question. Whats the odds as long as youre lousy? My haversack and coat sleeve was my pillow. The boys say this kind of thing takes the cream off the leave.
I had stolen a cup from the Y.M temporarily to aid me in feeding myself. The ill gotten but most useful goods is at present in my pocket.
17 Oct. 1918
Here we are again. Pen gone dry, spending the time writing. The Old Turkey and I slept peacefully together and quite comfortably. The floor below impressed me with its hardness and no amount of imagination or philosophy could soften it. I was pretty much possessed too with modern demons [lice] upon whom I would the vengeance of an early death today and suggested to them that indeed such was the case there was no earthly use in dining though some have claimed it is best to die full and well favoured.
At six I was up, washed my hands and dried them on my face for I had thrown my towel away on the precious day. Breakfast after waiting half an hour in the cold standing in line. It consisted of fried meatballs; mine was not cooked unfortunately, bread and tea.
At eight we were lined up and again weeded out. We for Etaples or heat apples as the English Sgt. Major said go at twelve today. Hurrah for my French home. Glad to get back to the typewriter on night duty.
A couple of stories which Miss Bishop had in her paper are worth recording. Good people in England donate eggs to the soldiers in the hospitals. They are brought over by the Red Cross. On these eggs are written names inviting correspondence and texts. The latter she declared was not always a wise method of religious propaganda. On one was written God is love and imagine the feelings of the man to find the egg rotten.
This is the other. English people resident near the hospital visit the patients bringing them fruit and dainties. One English lady came very frequently and most of the men were very glad to see her but one would do nothing but swear at her. On the particular day she had strawberries and when he opened his mouth to swear she popped in a strawberry and this continues until the man had a very good feed. These were stories taken from her diary.
Now Nellie, have I not written a full account of all my leave. You could never have patience to read more than this. Tell me truly dont you wish you were a soldier to go on leave to Blighty?
For a direct link to the author of this article, email Thomas Hutchinson
Copyright © Thomas Hutchinson, March, 2000, November, 2003
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