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Date: December 4th 1914
George Stephens
Bob Cowley


The following letter, dated from France on November 1, has been received in Nanaimo by Mr. George Stephens from his friend Bob Cowley, now with the British army at the front.

I have not been able to post a letter for the last ten days, so I will tell you what we have been doing since then. We have had really an awfully hard time. One the 18th of October we advanced to take a village, and all went well, the village after being shelled we took easily. My company were in the front line. The Germans did not hold on to the village but retired and let us come through where we out to have stopped, but instead we pushed right on bang into an ambush.

There was a wood on the other side and we entered it and came nearly out the other side when suddenly the opened fire. It was awful. There was a maxim gun on my left and one on my right, shell fire point blank-straight at us and very heavy rifle fire. The man on my right and left were both killed, and we were falling like flies. The major and next in command were both badly wounded and I found myself in command of about 60 men.

The only thing was to lie down and get what cover we could; when, I am glad to say the order came for us to retire, but when we got up to go the air seemed absolutely alive with shell and bullets. How I was not killed I don't know or any of us who got out, although very few did get out. I got a shrapnel bullet through ym puttee without touching my leg, a rifle bullet through my cap and one through my haversack.

Since then we have been in trenches being attacked every night and generally at early dawn. About two days ago the Germans got right up to our trenches and we simply wiped them out. When light came the ground in front was simply covered with them lying piled up dead three or four deep as we had barbed wire entanglements in front and this stopped them.

I am second in command of my company as there are only the major and myself left out of the six. My company has lost 130 men killed and wounded out of 220 we started with. We have had eleven officers casualties.

I have had three hours sleep in the last seven days. We are all just about tired out, but still good for some more Germans. It has been raining hard lately and one never gets dry. You simply have to let the clothes dry on your body. It is not pleasant sleeping in a pool of water.

Snipers are our worse trouble now. They hide in trees and up chimneys and shoot down on us in our trenches. I got one the other day first shot at 600 yards. You probably think that sounds cold-blooded, but if you had seen the things they have done to the poor inhabitants you feel you are only killing vermin.

Poor Roger Ripley my great friend in the regiment was killed four days ago. I often think of the cosy times I have had at Castle Donington and how good you have both been to me while I have been at Nottingham and wish I could be back having cold beef and that delicious pickle.

While I am writing this, shells are bursting within twenty yards of me. One is quite safe in the trenches unless of course they pitch straight into them. They are firing those big Jack Johnsons at us, why I don't know, but I think they are searching the ground for our guns which are behind our trenches. Oh for a bath. I have not had a wash of any kind for ten days. My face and hands could be a good advertisement for Cherry Blossom Boot Polish.

My captain was shot and killed about four days ago by the Germans who sent two men with their hands up above their heads and when he got out of the trench to take them prisoners the Germans behind shot him.