GRAND SERVINS, France
July 12, 1917
My Dear Budsie:
I am just crazy about the photo!
Well, we are back again in rest camp althou' A Section is still at the Front and we are liable for duty in any emergency. And we also go up twice a week to the front on work parties. We go up after dark and are building dugouts for advanced dressing posts. We leave again before daylight. I just love the trip - it is so exciting! We are taken up in cars as near the line as possible and then walk the rest of the distance. Oh, I saw Vic and Jack Wilkinson yesterday. Harry and I took a trip to their camp. Gee, I was glad to see them. Both looking fine. Vic was very anxiously enquiring about the Deeleys. I also saw Billy Mitchell. He has been drafted to the Princess Pats. And Paul L'Hereux is a Batman in the 8th Batallion and is camped quite close to us. Will look him up soon. So all the boys that left Meota, and Billy M. and Silas Pickel, are all in the 3rd Division, the same as we are, so that we shall always be together - that is, within a few miles of each other. We had a great old talk about Meota and old times. We talked about poor Jimmy - the boys had also tried to get news of him. But there were so many unidentified that he may have been amongst those. So Vic, Jack, Jimmy, Paul, and myself were all in the same scrap and came through safely, except for J. I must write to Mrs. C.B. and tell her I saw Billy.
We are billeted in an old school just now and our sleeping quarters are about four stories high. Last night I was lying awake with my old friend toothache when I thought I heard a shell whistling over. I sat up and listened and sure enough another one came. I woke all the boys up and we beat it downstairs to the seclusion of the cellar until the bombardment was over. Fritz runs up an armoured train to about 10 or 12 miles from this town, sends over about 15 high explosives shells and then beats it away again. He sends a huge shell weighing about 750 pounds - 12 inches in diameter. Luckily tonight he did very little damage. Only two men were wounded. Of course all the windows up to two street away were broken from the concussion and a few tiles knocked off, but that was all the material damage.
Just received a wee parcel from home - 100 cigs from Mr. Manser, and 50 cigs from Mother. I also had letters from Nan, Harlow and Wella. They are sending a parcel also this week. They are certainly nice, and write often. Harlow says Nan is wearing his ring now and he wants her to marry him and let him enlist, but she won't do it. Archie expects to leave in a draft soon. Dinner time - will finish this after I have dined
Well, since I statrted this letter yesterday, I have been moved. While I was writing the Sarg. Major instructed me to go to the Gas School for a course of lectures and experience.
So Corporal Holding and I have been moved down to France for 4 days. Although I would have liked Harry to come along too, he couldn't make the grade. Oh, it's a treat to be away from all the bustle and excitement of war. Although we are only about 20 miles from the front, except an occasional sound of a big gun or an aeroplane and with so many soldiers around, one would be inclined to forget what brings you here. The country is so pretty, and the corps fine. Last night we took a walk down a quiet lane (we are about a mile from the village) and one could almost imagine you were back in England again. The country is beautiful. Horses and cattle grazing in the meadow, soldiers playing every conceivable game of outdoor sport - lacroose, basball, football etc.
Will give you an idea of my duties. Am I making this too uninteresting? Just thought you would like to know what I am doing. At the Gas School, we are learning the use of gas helmets, and how to fight Fritz's gas. Our helmets are made to cover the head completely, with glass googles in the eye pieces, and a special valve in which you can breathe out, but not in. Your breath muct be taken inside the helmet and, although you may be in a cloud of gas which, if you took two breaths without a gas helmet it would be all UP, the air becomes pure when drawn through the chemicals the helmet is soaked in. We are drilled in them and practice the art of putting them on in as few seconds as possible. Once you get them on before the gas cloud arrives you're Jake. The idea of sending us to the Gas School is to take this course and them when we go back to our unit, we shall have to lecture and impart to the boys the knowledge we have gained.
I don't know, or quite understand where you are. Last mail I received two letters - one from Saskatoon on the 16th, and one from Meota on the 17th. In neither letter did you mention your intention of going to Meota, or how long you were going to stay there. Where did you see the Ridleys and when are you going to stay with them? We are not getting any more green envelopes issued - the privelge has been abused - so all letters will now be censored in our orderly room by the officers.
I'm glad Heck isn't out here, and I sincerely hope he will never get here. his intentions are good, but he will be much better off if he stops in Canada. Ever hear from George again?
I have been suffering with an attack of neuralgia this last 5 days. Suppose I got it from sleeping in wet cellars and dugouts. Hate to report sick because so far have not had occasion to do so since being on active service. And all sick reports are marked on your discharge. Have to fall in now - will finish later.
WE certainly have been put through a severe test this afternoon. The gas was turned on in a room and the strength per cubic foot would be 10 times as strong as any sent through the air. It was just terrible! I had to remove your ring - the first time yet. And even in my pocket it got tarnished. I am going to try and find a jeweller's shop tonight and get it polished again. One side of it is completely black. I was right in front of the gas cylinder and the fumes covered me. My breeches have turned a distinct red, and buttons, watch, badges, and almost everything in my pocket turned black, And my legs were a little burned, but not badly. Three more days of this and I certainly hope we get no more tests as severe as that one! However, it speaks well for the helmets, If a man can live in THAT and not get gassed, Fritz can send over any amount and once we get our helmets on, to Hell with him and his gas, we're just jake!
Well, have just returned from the village. We had such a nice tea. Boiled eggs fresh rolls, fresh butter (all the butter we get in the army is canned in one pound tins) cakes, and tea. Coming home, we bought two pounds of cherries for 15â‚µ. Different to Canadian prices aye? I managed to get my ring polished again, and when we go into the gas tomorrow I shall leave it in the tent!
Oh, say, I saw the French getting their crop of flax this afternoon on a farm close to the camp. There were 12 men walking a pace apart, each taking a handful at a time and pulling it up, roots and all. And each row is laid in a swath as tho a mower had cut it clean and close. Image taking off a crop of about 60 to 80 acres like that. It would take weeks! Everyone works on the land there - men, women, and children. In some places I have seen two boys, about 12 years old, harnessed to a cultivator, or 12 in a plow.
Did you ever get the ring, bracelet, handerchief etc. I sent a long time ago? You haven't mentioned receiving them yet. Did I tell you I had a letter from Fairweather? Says he is trying to get the Postmastership, and that they figure on making a radical change at the store. Didn't say whether it was in the running, or in the staff.
With best of love for now my sweet. I must get some sleep.