Ward 9 North Evington, Military Hospital
June 9, ‘16
You will have to excuse the attempt I have to make at writing for I find I am rather more under the weather than I thought I would be at first. When I wrote you a few lines from Bologne I did not know where I would be sent, but since then I have crossed the channel and this time landed at Dover and from there in hospital then they brought me here. I haven't been able to consult a map yet to see just exactly where we are but I think it is about 100 miles north of London as this is the farthest north I have been in England yet. I hope before I go back to France, to go up to Scotland now that I have got this far.
The news has just now come in that Lloyd George has been assassinated. I don't know whether it is official or not. I certainly hope it is not true. Isn't it terrible to have lost Kitchener at a time like this? Trouble seems to come in bunches, doesn't it? Then the naval battle has made us sit up and take notice, and the great losses of Canadians in the vicinity of Ypres since the bombardment started a week ago today has made many homes sad in Canada. But that couplet from "In Memoriam" always comes to my mind when reverses seem almost too great to bear, "Oh yet we trust that some how good will be the final goal of ill*"
There is so much I would like to tell you but I do not feel strong enough to write it. I could never describe the slaughter I saw just a week ago today. It was terrible to see your friends and chums blown to pieces on every side of you. It is even worse to see them horribly mangled and suffering the most intense agony and the rest of us after bandaging them up unable to help them further.
Sometimes when I saw practically everyone around me killed and I remained unhurt and this happened time after time, I could not help but feel that I was being spared for some purpose. When I was hit I did not think it had cut me at all. I thought there was just a rib broken, so I went on and did not bother with it. I bandaged up several others before I happened to notice that my whole side was soaked with blood and it was running down my trousers. Just then Steve came along the first time I had seen him since the battle started and he put a bandage on me. You know we always carry bandages sewn in our tunics. Then we went along the trenches and found Hawthorne terribly cut up. In fact, I did not know it was he until someone told me. His face was almost shot to pieces and his body and legs were a mass of wounds. He was unconscious. Steve and I fixed him up with what materials we had, then got the stretcher bearers to do what they could for him. We laid him up close to the parapet and in as comfortable position as possible. The stretcher bearers said they would carry him out at the first opportunity. That was the last time I saw him. I think he must have died that night for no one seems to have seen him carried out. By this time my wound was getting very painful, but the Germans started to attack about that time and there were only about 50 of us left to hold the trenches which 250 men had been holding so we stood up and pumped lead into them as fast as we could. They had about 50 yards to come and in that time we could pick them off pretty fast. Our main difficulty was with our rifles. They were clogged with mud, and when they got hot from firing, the bolts would not work. I used 5 different rifles in about an hour and in that time they decided that we were too much for them and they quit coming. They left their dead piled up in front of us.
They then went over toward the right and succeeded in getting through the lines held by the C.M.R.'s and starting bombing down the trenches between our company and the C.M.R.'s which were held by No. 1 Company of our battalion. This company was completely wiped out, all killed or taken prisoners. The Germans then got around in our communication trench in the rear and began shooting from both sides and our trenches were almost levelled. Their machine guns did great damage. However, we hung on hoping that somehow re-enforcements would be able to get to us, but the machine guns and the artillery fire between our trenches and their supports was so terrific that they could not get near us though they tried several times and were shot to pieces.
We stayed there all night until 32 were left unwounded. All our officers were killed or wounded and a sergeant was in charge. He decided that all we could do was to try and make our way back to supports in spite of the shelling. So we started. Those of us who were wounded were sent on first. We had a terrible time making that 400 yards crawling from one shell hole to another. The bursting of the shells around us was almost staggering. The concussion was something terrific. Quite a few were killed on the way. Those that got hit going over were carried by those coming behind. We were lucky to strike an old trench part way over that helped us along and we finally reached our goal.
Going along the support trenches to the dressing station, we found that they had been battered to pieces the same as the front line and dead bodies were lying thick all the way along. They had the advantage in the supports of being able to get their wounded out, which was a thing we could not do owing to communication being cut off.
I was pretty nearly all in by this time for I had had nothing to eat or drink for 36 hours and then I discovered that the trench dressing stations were all blown up. This meant that I had to walk to Ypres, the city of destruction about 4 miles away. About 5 of us started out but before we got there we had to get help. A fellow going into Ypres after working on the wires during the night helped me along and a couple of others helped some more of the boys. After getting fixed up at the dressing station, I felt better and walked 2 miles further to where the ambulances were and from that time I have not walked.
I am to have an Xray tomorrow as the doctor thinks there may be more shrapnel in my side yet. It is a rather awkward thing to work with as one of my ribs is broken and splintered, and pieces of bone stick out through the flesh. The wound is about halfway between my waist and armpit through that bunch of muscle there. I cannot sit up but have to keep on my back all the time. It gets a little monotonous sometimes, but there is a good jolly bunch of boys here who keep things lively. The only trouble is I cannot laugh without splitting my side. You have heard of people splitting their sides laughing haven't you?
A rather interesting thing in connection with getting hit was the fact that the piece of shrapnel went right through the last two letters I got from you. You know they were pretty thick ones and they probably saved me from getting it worse than I did. I had them in my right side upper tunic pocket. I am keeping them now as a souvenir of the occasion.
I haven't heard anything about Jim Brown. He was in a different company from me and was in support trenches while I was in the front line. I am anxious to hear about him. I just heard from a sergeant in here that Steve was shot through both arms after I left him and he was in Bologne hospital while I was there and neither of us knew the other was there. Last time I saw Crawford he was not hit so it looks as if Hawthorne was the only M.A.C. boy that went under. I wish I knew for sure what happened him. It is always worse, it seems to me, for relatives to never be able to find out whether their sons are killed, taken prisoner or something else has happened them.
I certainly hope it is all over before your brother gets there. Have you heard what part of England he is in?
I know that this is a very disconnected scribble but I will try to do better.
It will be some days yet before my mail finds me but I hope there is a nice little note from my little Ninga friend amongst.
As ever, Sincerely,
*In Memoriam (Tennyson)