August 22nd, 1916
I received your letter on July 31st a couple of nights ago. Am in the same place today as I was when I wrote you last week and must now do a few lines today. Had two letters from Clemmie and one from Enid this week, or at least the last of last week. I intended to write you yesterday but did not get around to it. The last week with the exception of Friday has been quiet. Of course there have been short bombardments almost every day. There is never a time when you cannot hear the guns, but the ordinary day, when there is no special bombardment and advance is considered quiet. Last Friday for instance was far from quiet. Our infantry was to go over the top at 3 p.m. and it 2:30 I think every gun on
the front opened up. I was in the same place as I am now, with another fellow, and, from the top of the hill beside our dugout we could see right up the valley. And some sight it was too. Talk about a noise. For a while it was impossible to hear a sound over the phone, and we could hardly hear each other speaking. The loud sharp reports of the field guns which were scattered all around us mingled with the roar of the heavy artillery in the rear, and the tearing sound of bursting shelves in front certainly kicked up some din. All we could see was cloud after cloud of smoke rolling across the valley, and the flashes on bursting shrapnel out over the lines. It was a grand and a terrible sight, and was by far the best bombardment that I have seen yet, with the exception on July 1st. That was almost impossible to beat. At 3 the infantry went and took the trenches they had been ordered to take and by 4 it was quiet again.
I sent Joe Clark a few lines the other day. He sent me his address also got it from his mother. She will probably have sent it to you but I will send it too. You ask if I'm getting the Witness. Yes, it comes regularly. Did not get any paper or parcel mail this week but have been getting it right along. Many thanks for it. It is certainly a treat over here when reading matter is here. Clemmie sends me the Island papers every week so I do pretty well with for papers. Writing paper was a puzzle here for awhile or rather envelopes. One could get paper of some kind to write on but it was almost impossible to get envelopes. However I was fortunate last night in getting this paper and some envelopes along with it.
You say you have not heard from me regularly since coming over here. Some letters have certainly gone astray as I have sent a line of some kind every week and a number of cards in between. Arthur Johnstone says that they had not heard a word from him for three weeks when they wrote last and he has written every week. I don't know what becomes of the letters but some of them certainly never reach their destination.
I know you will be much more anxious now that we have had some casualties in the battery. We were in a pretty hot place for awhile but now things are comparatively quiet and we are in little or no danger. The time that Lantz was killed they were in the cook house where they could not hear the shell coming and had not time to duck before it hit. We were then fairly close up for the siege battery. Then when Nicholson, Marshall, and Campbell got hit, they had been in a dugout. Fritz were shelling and had quieted down a little but had not stopped. I suppose not realizing the danger, they went out and were just in line to catch shrapnel that burst over them. That was the place where I am now. It has
been chosen for our next position and they were on a party that were digging dugouts and getting it ready. At that time they shelled the place quite often and the men's orders were to keep under cover when there was shelling going on. Now they don't shell at all hardly, usually only about four shells a day, at about noon, down the road a couple of hundred yards away, which are as harmless to us in the dugout as if they were to hundred miles away. Out of those six, Walter Lantz was an observer, and one of the best, too. The other five were on the gun crews. So far the telephonists haven't a man hurt.
A couple of days after, however, Albert Dinnes [?] got a small piece of shrapnel in the shoulder. He was a good telephonist and a splendid fellow, and, I think, as cool a head as there is on the battery. This was followed couple of days later by Mr. Hooper being hit while out observing. He was up on a hill where he could see the [?] position and got a piece of shell on the shin. Of all who have been wounded Marshall and Campbell were I think the only ones that were serious at all. It will be a month tomorrow since Mr. Hooper was hit so you see we are having it much quieter than the first.
No need are worrying at all. I am fine and getting on OK. The general health of the battery is good, a few fellows sick of course but nothing very serious. One of our men has appendicitis. (Don't know if that is spelled right) but is getting on OK. I think I haven't had a day sick since coming over.
Had a letter from Ethel a short time ago. She was waiting to hear her fate. Had applied for room in town but did not know if she would get it or not. How is Albert getting along? Imagine he will be all right but must be pretty busy. Enid was lucky to get the Clifton school. It is a splendid school and a good bunch of kids and besides she will be near home.
Eon Is fine and looking great. He is working with the signallers now. Took up observing at first but they found that they did not want as many observers as they were training and switched some of them off into the signallers Rex Kielly [?] is in with us also - a signaller too. Lawson and Warren are fine. Think I wrote about Bart being sick. Have not had a word about him since. Sgt. Cole (Allan), [?]
McEwen, also Elmer McKay from Clifton are with us and are all well. We got a bunch of 20 new men from Horsham a few days ago to fill the vacancies for casualties and sickness. Unfortunately there are no telephonists among them. However our work is pretty reasonable now and we are having a pretty decent time of it. As the days get shorter so our hours are shortening for an officer can only observe when there is good light. We usually go out now about 6:30, which means we get out at 6, and come in about 7:30. This just gives us time to have a wash, take some supper and have a good night's sleep. About once a week we get a day off or at least are on spare and have the day to ourselves unless there is something special to be done such as laying wire in a hurry etc. This is our Sunday, for Sunday over here is as busy and day as any other over here. But because we have no Sabbath does not mean that we have no religion in our lives. Soldiers' life at the front is essentially a rough and ready one and to the outsider the majority of us would appear heathens at first glance. The soldiers vocabulary as
a rule contains some words which would be counted as pretty strong slang or even swearing in civil life, and which would no doubt shock the average civilian. Yet if one will notice it, it is very seldom that you hear any real profanity. This is especially true among the infantry, who are in much more danger than the artillery and I think take it all, though I think the average Tommy thinks more about religion and the higher things here at the front than the same Tommy would if he were home in civil life. It is probably true that one has to know him personally and to understand him to appreciate the good that it in him, and the only way to do that is to be a soldier, to live the life of a soldier, and to make friends with all, good and bad.
Many a time I have seen the bunch of men playing poker and at the same time singing "Nearer My God To Thee", "I Am Thine O Lord" or "Abide With Me". Perhaps it would be "O Canada", "Till The Boys Come Home" or "Never Let The Old Flag Fall" or something along that line. You say he is a thoughtless gambler. Perhaps he is at least a gambler but if you know him personally and understand his life, in four cases out of five I think you would say he was a Christian.
I think I must close now and write to Clemmie. Will write again in a few days. Am not sure when the mail boat leaves England but think it is the latter part of the week. We usually get our Canadian mail Friday and Saturday night and the paper and parcel mail is always a day or two later. The letters come first.
Love to all and a very large share for yourself from your loving soldier son, Harold