A Thrilling Experience
Lieut. Kirkland's Baptism Of Fire At Vimy Ridge
A Graphic Description of Scenes in Which Canadians Were Engaged
Lieut. Stuart C. Kirkland, who is now in England recovering from a wound in his arm received at the battle of Vimy Ridge, writes the following exceedingly interesting letter to his brother, John, Dutton:
Now that I am laid up in dry dock for repairs I will have time to write more. Just a week ago yesterday morning I got "mine." I had better try and tell you about it as well as I can without violating any censorship rules.
Well, we know for some time before that we were going to take part in a big offensive. We had been practicing and rehearsing the details for several days, but didn't know the hour it was to start ï¿½till the very night before. Then the officers were informed of the zero hour. (The zero hour is the hour at which the attack begins.) All watches were synchronized, that is compared and set the same, so that there could be no mistake. All the battalions taking part were to be in the front line trenches ready by the appointed hour. Well our battalion moved off from billets early on Sunday evening and marched to our part of the line where were to go over. It was one o'clock in the morning before I had my platoon in position in the jumping off trench, and we stood there in mud to our waists all night waiting for the eventful hour. I can never describe my feelings as I stood there waiting for the moment to come. At a certain hour our artillery was to all open up on Fritz's front line and we were to jump out and advance as near as possible, ready to rush his front line when our artillery fire raised. After fifteen minutes before the time set, I took two-water bottles or rum and gave each of the men a good swallow, for it was bitter cold standing in the mud all night. Then I stood watch in hand, waiting, waiting!
Precisely on the moment the most wonderful artillery barrage ever know in the history of the world started. Hundreds, thousands of big guns, from 18-pounders to 15-inch guns, opened at the same second. Imagine 15-inch guns firing from miles behind the line and throwing each of them about 1,4000 pounds of explosives. The very earth rocked, and the noise and thunder was awful and maddening. The I jumped over the top and called to the boys to come on. I had gone about 15 yards when I felt a stinging sensation and looking down saw a trickle of blood on my left hand. A Heinie machine gun had got me. At the same time a sergeant just to my right crumpled up in a heap, riddled with machine gun bullets. How lucky I was! I can never thank God enough for my escape. It was miraculous. How I only got one instead of a dozen I can never tell, and through my left arm of all places, when it might just as well as not have been through my head.
I dived into a shell hole and got my arm tied up a bit. A wounded man came along and I helped to bandage him up in return for him helping me to tie up my own. By that time our company was ahead of me, in to Fritz's front line and following our barrage on to the second line. Our men, you know, were going ahead on a frontage of 12 miles long. Thousands and thousands of men, imagine the scene if you can.
I got up and started ahead again, but I found my arm was going to be a bother so I turned back to go to a dressing station. By this time the German artillery was throwing everything they had at our old front line and on No Man's Land to harass our supports coming up. It took me a long while to get back the few yards to our front lines. Heinie shells were dropping all around me. I got into a mine-crater with a coupld or other wounded men, but a big shell dropped on the other side and then on dropped right in the crater not far from us and we thought it time to leave those parts. We finally got into the front line but a long way from where I had gone out a while before. The first thing I saw when I got into the trench was an officer I knew lying badly wounded and his batman near him dead. Just then a Heinie came along on his way to the rear. Hundreds of prisoners went back that way without escort. Our boys, when they surrendered, gave them a kick and told them to keep moving toward our rear, when they gathered them in droves and put them in big wire enclosures. The Heinie who came along while I was examining the wounded officer happened to be a Red Cross fellow, so I got him to bandage the wounds. Then we got the officer into a deep dug-out out of harm and I continued on my way.
In one place where the trench had been blown in and it was very narrow I came on a poor fellow lying lengthwise of the trench and everyone had been tramping right over him till he was almost buried in the mud. Of course he was dead so I suppose it didn't inconvenience him any. But imagine the sensation of having to tramp on dead bodies. In another place I came on one of my one [?] company lying with both legs blown off at the knees but still alive and conscious. I stopped and talked to him for a few moments. Scenes like these are not uncommon in war.
After dodging shells for sometime and seeing more than one party of men blown to atoms I finally found a dressing-station. The doctor sent me down the line after dressing my arm, and after passing through the field ambulance and then the C.C.S. I was put on a hospital train fro Boulogne, where I stayed just one night and was then packed in a hospital ship and ultimately arrived in Dover, thence by rail to Reading, and here I am.
I will tell you more of my experiences in my next letter. I may say just here that the Canadians "got there" anyway and showed they could fight as well as anyone and a little better than Heinie. We had him beat to a "farewell."
Well I must close. My arm is doing nicely and doesn't pain much. It was a lucky scratch. The bullet went through clean as a dollar making a nice clean wound.