Tues. Feb. 3/16.
Dear Pa, -
I have not written home for two weeks or more and I hope you are not worrying since I last wrote on the afternoon of the day we went to the trenches, arriving there about 6' o'clock of the 20th of Jan. There was more shelling there than we have experienced before. Everyday about 12 o'clock the Huns would start and send a few over at intervals until dark (about 5 o'clock). Not many came near our dug-out, one, the closest about 30 yards away. Turner got the nose cap of it. It was a fairly small shell. Our Platoon were in supports, which would really be the front line in case they attacked because the front line in front of us was too wet & muddy to use. We were not allowed to shoot, only keep a watch-out. The sentry-goes were very easy, at night 1 on and 4 off, in the day time there were not so many posts so it was 1 hr. a day or perhaps two. We had no fatigues to speak about, so those four days were the easiest we've spent in the front line.
After being relieved on the 24th we went back to a barn about a mile or so. Once or twice we were out of the barn because a shell came close (two hundred yds.) They didn't fire many nor they didn't try to hit the bard. I guess they don't know soldiers are there or they would soon knock it down.
I'll try to give you some idea of the circumstances under which I left for Bailleul to catch the train. Most of our platoon and some of another went out at 6 o'clock on a fatigue. It was drizzling and very dark. We worked (filling sand-bags) till 10.30p.m. and then marched back. When I got back the orderly sergeant called me down and said my pass had come thru I packed up my kit, for we have to take everything except ammunition. Four others, Sergeant Macpherson, Corporal Cameron, Corporal Mike, Charlie Cameron had left earlier.
I said good-bye to the fellows who were busy drinking tea & having a bite to eat. It was a long walk to Bailleul, about 8 miles. I called in at headquarters which was four kilometers back from us got my pass and continued to Dranoutre where the pay sergeant gave me 25 [? Page torn]. One of the McGill boys from no. 1 Co. was there so the two of us went on to Bailleul to-gether. Got there about 3 a.m. & joined the others who had left earlier. There were about 8 of the first university Co. in the first lot to get leave. I didn't expect mine to come for 3 or 4 nights anyway. I don't miss anything because the regiment went each for an eight day rest near 7 [?]. The day or so after I join them we'll go into the trenches just on our right at Ploeg Street I think, not sure tho. The last place we were at was opposite Messines, not far from Wulverghem, which is completely ruined by shell fire. Going back we pass thru Neuve-Eglise, a great part destroyed, Dranoutre which has been shelled hardly at all. It was here that I wrote last letter home, billeted in tents. Then Bailleul Meteren & Fletre are places we've marched there several times.
The day before I left Dan MacDonald sent over word with a friend of Corporal Milnes that he was close to us. I didn't get a chance to go over and see him but may when I go back if we don't move too far.
A Pass for seven full days in London is a great treat Pa and I'll go back and feel that I've a fresh start. My Pass dates from Jan. 28 till Feb. 5. (Sat.), Take the train leaving Victoria station at 9.15 a.m. Sat. To-day is thursday so I have the rest or to-day and to-morrow to put in.
We left Bailleul at 5.40 a.m. Friday Jan 28. I reached Boulogne about 10. Those going on leave formed a long line and we marched in fours from station to Boat. We got on the 2nd boat. We got on the 2nd boat and had a good trip over the channel to Folkestone where we took the boat to France in July. A destroyer followed close behind us all the way across.
Took the train on Folkestone Pier and had a pleasant ride to London. The fields in England look fresher & greener than in France.
First we checked our Packs & equipment then had something to eat and went to the Canadian Pay & Record Office. We drew all the money we had on account. I got 20 Â£. I still have 14 or 15 left and will leave what I don't use with Mr. Reid. I haven't spent much as I thought I would.
I went with three others to the Regent Palace Hotel and in the morning went over to Mr. Reid's office. They live in Golder's Green, (20 minutes ride on the tube from Charing Cross).
We brought quite a lot of Belgium mud over, my pants were torn & my tunic was very shabby. I bought a new tunic and Capt. Clinkskill whom I saw at the Pay & Record office gave me a pair of his riding breeches so now I feel half decent, also got new underclothes first day I was here. I've been free from vermin for 2 months so feel sure that I'm O.K. in that way.
Sat. night Mr. Reid took Mrs. Reid, Mrs. Paterson (friend staying here) & myself to the theatre out here, a variety show. Sunday went for a walk to Hendon in the afternoon. I slept in the a.m. Hendon is where the Grahams white flying school is. Saw a dozen or more planes flying starting stopping. etc.
Monday, got up 11 a.m. Lunch, then in afternoon Mrs. Reid, Mrs. Paterson & myself went to Coliseum theatre - variety show. Evening stayed here.
Tuesday Sam got up and went down with Mr. Reid; had hair-cut, shave went to Royalty theatre in afternoon, saw Peter Pan in New Theatre. Had tooth-ache in the evening, went to bed early with hot water bottle. It hasn't ached since but I'm going down to see dentist as soon as I finish this.
Yesterday (Wed) got up 11 a.m. went to see Capt. Clinkskill about trousers, show in afternoon with Mrs. Reid & Mrs. Paterson at Royalty Theatre - "The man that stayed at home," or "The White Feather." It was in Regina a while ago. It was a dandy play. I left the ladies and called for Capt. Cl., he took me to Sommers' (Willougby - Sommers of Saskatoon) when he stays for dinner & theatre afterwards. They live at Richmond an hours ride on train from here. I didn't get back to 12 o'clock. It is 2:30 p.m. now and I'm going down town soon to dentist and then try & find Buzz Hamilton who I heard came over and bring him here for dinner. Some of the other boys may be over but I don't know where to find them. The regiment sends ten or so a night. It won't take long to run off the first University Company's leave. I think leave is given every six months, of course it varies with different regiments.
It isn't a very pleasant feeling when you think of going back, especially when you see fellows enjoying themselves in civilian clothes. But it is attractive in a way at the front being with the fellows etc. If it wasn't for the shelling it would be O.K. but they take all pleasure out of it. After all it isn't the long marches or the uncomfortable sleeping places or the none too-good food that you mind so much; it is the feeling that those shells cause. So far not one of the Saskatoon fellows have been touched.
The trenches were much better than we expected. The rain has kept off for two weeks or more till to-day it is raining gentle.
I have your letter of Jan.4. here. Many happy returns of the day Pa. At 49 you are past middle-age and will begin to think you are getting old. This war has broken up many homes.
I notice what you say about a commission. If we can last another six months at the front I think we'll be justified in trying for jobs at the Pay & Record office or other similar military work.
I hope you are very successful in the office and that your troubles are easily over-come. No doubt you will have to work more and be in the office longer in the day.
I must close now. Two more days in London and then back to France. I'll perhaps write to mother to-morrow night. I'll enclose Arthur's letter to Santa while I have it handy.
Much love to all