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Date: July 5th 1917
Read by:

RH Thomson

Reader Statement
Reader Statement
I think its important that the thousands from WWI be remembered as men and women rather than as numbers and facts. Having their letters brings their humanity closer but lifting their words from their letters with our voices is perhaps the best way we can hear them and appreciate who they really were. The Canadian Letters and Images Project is such a bold and necessary idea.
Reader Bio
Robert Holmes Thomson is a Canadian television, film, and stage actor, as well as a writer and a director. He is a member of the Order of Canada and in May 2015 Thomson received a Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement.
Letter

France  July 5/17

 

My Dear Betty & Kiddies:

 

It is about 11 am and I am sitting in the dugout writing this – Pryor is also writing, I wish you could see us in our hole in the ground – in all our dirt etc – etc.  We are having a rather cool spell of weather just now so this morning I got busy & made a fire-place in the side of our living – I then got and old biscuit tin to hold the fire  & a couple of 3” shell cases which had been fired, to set it on & now we have quite a comfortable home, it is just large enough for two – I also have your pictures sitting on an improvised shelf – just as I write Fritz is dropping a few shell arround but we are quite safe unless one drops right on top of our dugout, then it would be “nappoo” “finish” for Willy.  We  are still in supports & having a fairly quiet time, though we may be going up into the front line [censored] I got your letter No7 yesterday, that leaves No’s 5 & 6 still to come – you had better address my letters Cpl after this & not Serg’t.  I gather from you  No 7 that Smalley have invited you there for a while, it would have been nice to have gone for a short visit, in view of the understanding that is between us – however you know best.  I was ammused at the cable from East Africa I wonder who it could have been meant out for?

 

At the present time we are on a part of a battlefield which will be for ever famous in British history, & which will stand out as among the bloodiest of the whole war – France – our Imperial Army & Canada have each sacrificed many of their bravest & best here, & Germany also had paid an awful price for her unholy ambition. In my spare time I have braved the occasional bursting shells which Fritz throws over once in a while to let us know that he is still in the vicinity, & wandered over the scene, it is an old German position, one of the strongest they held – considered almost impregnable they say that France alone [censored] of her [censored] take it – It is a high ridge running for miles & which commands a splendid view of the country in every direction, an ideal place for defence.  The Germans had literally  tunelled it hollow, while the face of the slopes was criss-crossed in every direction with well constructed trenches – great & tremendously strong gun emplacements had been built here & there & I have been down old dugouts , which have have been 50 & Goft down in the earth - we have had to go down 60 steps & then not been at the bottom - & over the face of the ground everywhere a bewildering maze of barbed wire & pointed iron stakes – it seems almost impossible that men could have fought their ways through such a tangle.  The place itself now, looks as though there had been some gigantic upheavals of nature – the trenches almost battered out of exsistance beneath our artillery fire – dugouts broken in burrying their occupants alive & along the top of the ridge there are immense craters, some of them you could put Eaton’s Block in – this is where out men had tunnels under the ground from their own lines & laid mines filled with high explosives right under the Germans, & there at the proper time exploded them – thousands of Germans must have been burried under the debris as I wandered among the rack & ruin of it all I came across  more than one pile of bones with grining skull,  which told their significant & pitiful story – The shell torn ground is littered with every conceivable kind of war material & over all a tangled harvest of thistles – mustard – blood red poppies & strange to say “Batchelor Buttons” are growing, South Africa was nothing to this, & the horror of it all can never be described, its worse than hell.  Its only a matter of time before the end comes – longer or shorter, & sometimes I think it will not be very much longer, Fritz is going back all the time, & if you could hear our artillery & see our shells bursting in & behind his lines, you would indeed wonder how  he could stand up under it all.  I believe we put 30 shells over for every one that he sends.  We are hoping that its true that Russia is commencing again.  About parcels – If you send cocoa – tea – a little sugar, chewing gum they would be very acceptable don’t send  the prepared cocoa, just Van Houtens with some sugar, & don’t bother about tobacco or socks – the shortbread & cake will be acceptable but don’t out soap in parcel, I have lots anyway – I would not bother about sending any more papers except the Tribune Fiction Magazine.

 

Tell Shirley & Billy that I will not be able to send any more cards for a while – but if I can, I will bring them some German cartridges & perhaps a German helmet – there are all kinds of them here but we cannot load ourselves with them I am in the very best of health, & hope you are feeling better.  Remember me to Thorey & Guns, with best love & lots of hugs & kisses to my little son & daughter & wife God bless & keep you.

 

Your loving Daddy

Will

 

Betty XXXXXXXX

Shirley XXXXXXX

Billy XXXXXXXX

 

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