France, July 29th, 1917.
There is nothing ever happens here, and yet, while we are out of the line resting, we are so blamed busy drilling and shining our buttons that we have little or no time to write letters. So I owe you two now, - there is one of May 20th, and one of June 23rd, to answer.
Then again, it is a puzzle to think of anything that would interest you. Now and then the cook puts charcoal in the tea instead of sugar, or, as happened this week, a shell hits somebody and we have to gather up the pieces for interment. One afternoon we were paraded some distance to a football match in which very few of us were interested, and the next night we walked up to change the position of thirty yards of front line trench, and were shelled out with a number of casualties. Tonight we had an extra good supper, consisting of mutton - kidney mulligan, and corned beef hashed up with pepper.
Why can't folks at home get over that feeling against alien enemies? I assure you that there is very little bitterness here against the poor fellows who have to stand and take our shells.
I have been wondering if the new Chancellor Michaelis is any relation to our old acquaintance. Hebrew, is he not? The appointment will perhaps make plenty talkee in Regina.
Our family is looking up! With Muriel at Sask'n, and Allene at Colombia on a similar course, we surely will be erudite in time.
31st - Another letter of yours, dated July 1st, arrived last night, full of yellow rose-petals. With all the roses I have seen lately, there have been no yellow ones. They are nearly gone now, and the poppies that grow in all the fields are losing their petals. "In Flanders red the poppies grow Between the crosses, row on row…" - When I saw that verse first I did not know the meaning of it, but now I have seen. There will be thousands more of the crosses after today's work, but, thank God, who ruleth victory, today brings the end much nearer. How much, we cannot tell yet. The flame, which started in the north, seems bound to sweep southward, consuming the German line as it goes. We will probably have our part to play when the wave reaches our part of the front. The question is, will the enemy be on the run, or will they have recovered breath after the first surprise, and be able to halt us? It will be a case of two irresistible forces meeting in direct opposition!
We usually have to wait until a garbled account reaches us through the continental editions of the "News" or "Mail" (London), but this morning the news as received by wire was read out to us on parade, and this afternoon a second bulletin was announced. The first, ten mile front south of Ypres, the second a further twelve miles. It is surely the most terrible day that the world has ever seen. Let them send us. We are ready!
I did not understand your reason for keeping the children in ignorance of Elsie's affairs. I thought that you considered her to have brought disgrace on us, shame that must be hidden. That was why I was so vexed. I am glad to know the truth of the matter.
I know enough of the horrible details so that I have a purpose to carry out, perhaps on my way home from here. I have thought and dreamed of it for ten years past. But I do not know how that past affects your present life, and when I try to guess, find that I dare not; so evidently there is a lot that I have either not heard or not understood.
It was on the third of June that Will Green was killed, leading his men over the top. We are in a different section of the army, and were sitting back in comfort, not even knowing there was anything going on. I am seeing some soldiering, considering. Nearly three months with a crack battalion, and only two days up front, - (twelve days of active service all told, and a week of standing by for working parties, of which I was on four).
There is nothing about our life here to worry us, except the daily more or less necessary contact with our own officers. That part of it keeps one's nerves on edge a good part of the time. But we must give them credit that they take the cares of everyday life, housing, subsistence, even conscience, entirely off of our minds. So, in some respects, there is less to worry over than in civil life. And our one trouble is left behind, along with our knapsacks, whenever we go in the line.
This afternoon I went strolling the necessary kilometre in search of a wash. On my way back I met my first Vickers-Maxim gun, and the Sergeant-Major in charge very kindly invited me to try it out. So I ran the risk of missing supper for the sake of a lesson, and very pretty acquaintance I found the little weapon. Only it talks a little too loud for comfort.
I notice that the night you presided at St. Andrews was the same night on which I plowed out through the mud with a stretcher, and did not get home until the wee sma' hours were growing big again. I wrote you, or somebody, about that trip. Really, it is these little interesting episodes on working and burying parties that one would like to avoid if one could. Monotony isn't nearly so bad as it is painted!
Try and keep a copy of the Collegiate Annual for me, if you can, please. I want it as a reminder of these times, for I can not see very much beyond the humdrum of every-day life except when I think of such cases as Charlie's. By the way, that phrase, "Supreme sacrifice", seems wrongly used. It is not the soldier who dies who makes it, but the man who signs his name to the paper that makes him a soldier, a thing no longer a man, a soul-less cog in a machine of might-is-right, trust-in-God-and-keep-your-powder-dry. That is the sacrifice, the supremeness of which we do not need to go near the battle-field to realize. The fulfillment of the contract (by the soldier) is just as hard if he never sees the front. When I come to the day we are preparing to go into the trenches, I feel free from all worry, for at that time our lives are taken out of the hands of men and into those of God.
Last night some twenty of us gathered in a space that is hollowed out in the side of a slag-heap at a near-by coal mine, for communion. A pile of timber formed a sort of front wall to the bay, and the chaplain had laid out his white cloth and spread the Table on a few timbers which projected. We sat on or leaned against lumps and boulders of red slag during the early part of the service, then drew near and took the elements as we stood along a spur of railroad. It was a service to remember.
I see a game of indoor baseball over the other side of camp, so will go over for a little exercise.
Next morning - Rain, tent with fourteen men, four or five of them smoking at a time, by releifs; and me with a cough. I found some LL&C lozenges in a Y.M. canteen last night, and spent a whole franc on them.
We have been enjoying a good handy place to swim all the week. At one of the mines there is a queer building, either a condenser or an oil extractor, where the hot water drops down through forty feet of slats, and at the bottom is a pool eight feet deep, full of cement pillars, with the warm rain coming down so fast that it is difficult to breath. Of course there is an arrangement of some kind with the owners. The place is crowded every evening that the weather is fit. If it happens to rain there is some fun getting hold of the clothes outside.
I was busy talking when addressing your envelope, and blamed if I didn't put my regimental number instead of 1412.