May 7, 1916.
My dear Mackenzie,
I have intended this long time to write you, but facilities for writing have, till now, been rather limited. Yesterday the party to which I belong, having learned in ten weeks what the peace time Regular is taught in six months, after a final inspection of buttons, trousers, bayonets, entrenching tools, hair and what not, was passed out of the recruit stage. So now we can call ourselves soldiers; and we live no longer in the barracks which, condemned as they were in 1895, do duty as a training depot, but have moved to the above address in the ring of forts surrounding Chatham, which is our regimental headquarters.
In spite of my blindness, they have passed me for general service. Some of us will be gone a month from now, and all of us will dribble out to France within the next three months.
In our recruit stage we had to put up with many things - floods and spinal meningitis and sleet in insufficient food. Fortunately the latter difficulty did not trouble me, with my well-lived purse. However, I was sorry for the husbands who had to make allotments, most of whom had but a sixpence a day to spend on themselves: when one has paid for one's cleaning apparatus, and replaced losses, and bought a stamp to write home to the wife, there is not much left of sixpence. It is impossible to say too much for the married workman who has volunteered. It is an easy thing for the bachelor to do his bit, but I were a married man, situated as about two million of our soldiers have been, I'm damned if I would have done it.
During inspection yesterday, they asked for volunteers for the machine-gun section, and I was most interested to watch the psychology of my colleagues. Those who did not volunteer mostly wanted to avoid the "suicide club" of those who did volunteer - one wanted to get a longer training, which meant a delay in getting to the trenches - another volunteered to put 400 rounds a minute into the enemy because, quite honestly, he could not bear to bayonet a German. We take the most extraordinary views of things, humane and barbarous, according to the strength of our imagination. The little bit of mimic warfare that we have done already has shown me that I must not let my mind run riot, if I am to come up to the scratch at the right moment.
Thence of liberty, and the knowledge that war is such a messy business makes one a little sick at times, but that is much more than compensated by the sense of perfect physical fitness, and especially by the knowledge that one's road is marked. One pities the poor civilian of military age, because he has a look in his eye which says - Should I? - Should I not? However, government is solving that difficulty for them now.
Men from across the pond form a fair proportion of my contemporaries. A man in the next tent to mine has lived on Broadview for the last three years, and another on Parliament Street (Toronto) I met an old corporal in the canteen two days ago, who lived in Toronto for a year in 1873, and a new corporal whose wife is in Toronto now.
So I am fallen, more or less, among my fellow countrymen; and one can yarn of Tommy Church and your other notables at nights. One gets a little homesick at times.
"Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?"
However, we are a very happy crowd.