Feb. 5th 1916
2:30 p.m. Sunday.
My dearest Madge,
I the Germans will allow me I will try and get a few lines off to you. This is about the time when a daily strafing begins, and if it does so we have to vacate our dug-outs. At present however it is fairly quiet except for a few of our shells going over. We left our last billets last Monday at 9 a.m. A steady four hours march brought us to some tents a couple of miles behind the firing line, where we stayed the night. I got in with a pretty nice crowd five of them being B.C. men from another battalion. They were the public school type with the swank knocked out of them, and it was a pleasure to hear their well modulated English voices discussing interesting topics after the harsh Canadian voices of so many of our men. I always think the hour or two before lights out when under canvas is rather fascinating. Pleasantly tired after our march we lay in our blankets watching a brazier of red hot coke near the door of the tent, and gradually the sound of voices singing drifted over from various tents. Soon it was taken up by ours and to the accompaniment of a mouth organ most of the old and new songs were gone through before we fell asleep. The next morning we took it easy and at 3 p.m. set out for the trenches. Our first objective was some "dug-outs" a couple of hundred yards or so behind the front line. One squad of eleven went on to the trenches, and the other two, one of which I was in, stayed there. We were there three days and it was not too bad. The dug-outs were roomy and two of the nights were undisturbed. The first night I was on sentry, but the time went fairly quickly. This country must have been well settled judging by the ruined farms one sees on every hand. During the daytime one could move round a little with care as there was a hedge between us and the enemy. This devastated country behind the trenches has the same fascination for me that old ruins at home always have. I crept over to the ruined farm close by and poked about. It was little more than a pile of brick dust, but in one room I found the remains of a nearly new cream separator. On going to a field close by for water I found the remains of a threshing engine and separator all set in line ready for work. The unfortunate people must have been at it when they had to leave and I could picture the busy scene and then someone rushing it to say the Germans were coming. The greatest excitement at this place was going for rations after dusk. There was no communication trench so we could only move after dark. There were numerous plank bridges to be crossed in the dark over yawning trenches. Sometimes a flare would go up when one was in the middle of one of these lighting everything up distinctly only to make the darkness blacker than ever when it died out. The return trip with a bag of food or a box of bombs was even more precarious and I was always glad to get back without a fall. One night just as we were getting back crossing an open field in view of the German trenches, a flare went up. We all froze into statues, but the white sacks must have shown up. A machine gun went pat-pat-pat. You could feel them playing it up and down the line and hear the bullets hiss in the long grass, but no one was hit. After three days in this place my squad took its turn in the front line. The trench here is drier than the last one I was in, but we don't get much rest even in the daytime. We stand-to most of the night and I am thankful this is the last one as I can barely keep my eyes open. We get relieved tomorrow night. Then we spend six days back in the tents and then come back for another six days. Then six more days in the tents after which the brigade moves back for a rest. I got -----
8:30 a.m. Monday. I was brought to a sudden stop yesterday by a couple of shells coming over. We hastily scrambled out and squeezed up close to a parapet. They sent them over pretty steadily for an hour and a half. Nothing like as bad as we had it before, but it was by no means pleasant. Several burst on either side of the trench a few yards from us and you are all the time expecting one to drop beside you. Four men were killed, all old Squadron men. One of them was from Vermilion. He used to fix up the telephones for a time, and once he told me he thought he had been at Newhaven, because he called one afternoon at a house near Alton's and two English girls were having afternoon tea and gave him a cup. Thank goodness we have done our last night, two hours on and two hours off seems to be one continual waking up just as you have gone to sleep. Then having to keep out of the dug-outs in the daytime does not give one much chance to sleep. We got the first mail since leaving our old billets yesterday and the parcel made a most opportune arrival. Our wood supply was damp and an officer made me put my fire out because it was smoking too much before the water was boiling or the bacon cooked. One can't live on raw bacon or steak, so I was dependant on bread and jam, and the cake and lobster paste were much relished. Many thanks to you all for everything. Please thank Ol for her letter and interesting enclosures. I had a very interesting one from Ray too. What a busy life you and Doll are leading, it must be very tiring and trying too at times. I am afraid this letter is very grubby, but I am horribly so myself and I have not shaved since we came in the trenches. The place we bombers are patrolling at night is rather exposed. There are several isolated buttresses of sand bag [?] about eighty feet apart in front of the trench. We each occupy one but have to keep moving through the open part between to keep in touch with each other. The German snipers have established themselves about a hundred yards away and keep potting at us all night long. I don't mind it as it rather breaks the monotony. This morning they evidently thought we had gone to breakfast and started their fires up. We saw smoke and fired several rounds at it. I expect they were pretty well dug in and would not get hit, but it was satisfactory to see how quickly they put their fires out and to know that we had at least spoilt their breakfast. I expect we shall get relieved about eight o'clock tonight and have about three miles to march to the tents where we shall be in reserve for six days. I expect it will be getting pretty near the end of the month before we go back for a rest. Then I hope they will get a wiggle on with the leave. At present only about two are going per week from the battalion. Well I am going to try and get a little sleep in case the guns start up later on.
Good-bye old girl. Love to all