The SOMME Offensive
About September 30, 1916
Have not received a letter from you for over 9 days, but as you in your last letter said "Ishka Bibble." So say I!
Well we are back again in the line, but such a quiet and cushy spot you could never imagine. We have not had a wounded man pass through our hands since we came up here. Only a few sick. There are four of us at the regimental aid post, only 150 yards from the front line. But it is so quiet one could imagine we are miles behind. But, as usual we see lots of interesting sights, and find enough to do to keep amused.
We were very glad to get settled down again because that marching day after day on a piece of dry bread and meat was getting monotonous. It was also very miserable to march until almost dark and then to have to wait for 2 hours for supper, and when you finally get it, nothing but a measly cup of weak tea to wash down the dry bread and meat you had for your noon meal. This is honest truth and it occurred four or five times after a long march. But I am so sick of talking about the food question, I guess I will let up after telling you about our latest. We were told off for duty up the line, our Section (B), and at breakfast were given 2 thick slices of bread - 24 hours rations - nothing else whatever. We were taken in cars about 20 kilometers and split up in small parties to take charge of the dressing stations and collecting posts. Harry and I and three other boys went out together and existed that day on bully beef that we found around the dugout, only satisfying our selves that the meal tomorrow would make up for it. But the next day, our rations were sent up to --- to be split with the boys at another post (making 9 men in all) and they consisted of: 2 loaves of bread, three quarters of a pound of bacon, 2 cans of milk but no tea or sugar, 4 cans of bully beef, - and we had 72 cans of it lying around the dugout in rat holes - 1 tin of butter, 1 tin of jam, 2 tins of carbide (God knows what for) and about 12 candles. All that for nine men starving for 24 hours! Enough said.
We expect to be relieved today and then spend a few days down at headquarters. But I really hate to leave this spot. Lots of sleep, nobody to worry you. I haven't shaved for 8 days (left my razor behind), and no wounded so far. Could stay here for the duration.
Fat Creighton and I took a stroll toward the front line tonight, just after dark. He hadn't gone far before - "Halt! - who goes there?" - and I felt the tip of a bayonet pressed against my tunic. I answered "stretcher bearers," and got word to pass on. A little further on, everything was beautifully quiet so we climbed onto an old firing step and looked over the parapet - we were then about 75 yards from our own front line. After a while we saw a shell burst on our line. An occasional star shell would go up, making it as bright as day. We stood there perfectly still; neither spoke and we just took in the scene ahead of us. I believe our thoughts were running in the same channel because Fat remarked, "and what will be the end of it all? In front of us was a perfect labyrinth of trenches and dugouts, most perfectly made. And away to out left was a constant rumble and flash of guns. On the right, everything was quiet for minutes at a time; then a sniper's bullet would ring out, or a machine gun would rat-tat-tat with that peculiar swishing noise that followed the bullets. And in every direction, as far as the eye could see the sky would be a scintillating with light from a star shell, either in view, or if out of view the bright flashy reflection showed in the sky. Then in front of us we heard a distinct "thud" and looked in that direction we saw a flame, spitting and spluttering through the air in a curve, and we guessed it would be a fuse on a trench mortar. We were right because just as the sputtering flame reached the ground "ker-ur-ump" (it spelt distinctly) and the pieces flew in every direction. Some passed high over our heads with that peculiar whizzing, whining noise. We waited to see if another would come, but that was all. I was thinking of the homes that have been wrecked, future lives ruined, and the suffering of those dear ones we have left at home. How you must be all waiting and waiting for that welcome cry of "Peace At Last", and how you must be dreading and fearing for that news to come which will make you all feel that you have no more interest in the war, or in life. We all wonder "what will be the end of it all."
Forgive me for running off into that mood, but usually when I sit down to write to you, I get so darned homesick I don't know what to do, or say.
Last night, Fat and I were out on the Battalion ration party. We went for the experience of the trip. We are kind of attached to the Battalion so long as we are up at the Aid post, and the Battalion is the one Jimmy Kennedy belonged to. I was talking to some of the boys about him last night, and while waiting in the trench for the limbers to come up, we were all talking about Canada and home, when some fellow mentioned Battleford. I nabbed him an asked him where he worked, and he said "Ferry's Butcher Shop." We had a long talk about Battleford, thinking of people that either of us might know. He said he could remember me by sight and name, but I couldn't remember him, and it was too dark to see his face.
Say! This morning we all spent a few minutes on a lousing expedition, and off our 4 shirts we picked 236 lice! And I believe I have as many left.
What with lice and rats, life in a dugout is no picnic. Talking about rats reminds me of Fat Creighton, a lad from Edmonton, who reminds me of Heck a great deal. His latest craze is hunting rats with a French bayonet. All day long, he pokes around the holes in the dugout with his bayonet in one hand and a candle in the other. Last night after we went to bed, he got up and sat in the passage for about an hour, as still as a cat, waiting for one to come in, but he had no luck. The damn things chew into our tunic and overcoat pockets, eat our rations, and run over our faces and bodies while we are asleep. And they're big enough to wear puttees and an overcoat!
Must close for now.
All my love from your lonesome