September 15, 1916.
I'm having quite a new experience now. Harry and I and five other men were detailed for duty in a casualty clearing station, so we are now attached to the English Regiments. We don't know how long we shall be here, but I imagine as soon as the line moves up, we shall rejoin them.
Well, will try and relate experiences since last writing you. The night we left our camp in Belgium, Harry and I with 8 other men were detailed for police duty. So we left our camps earlier than the rest and rode with the transport to the place where we entrained - a distance of 18 or 20 kilometers. We were all loaded into box cars that had been used for transporting horses - 20 men to a car. The floor of the car was 6 to 8 inches thick with manure! Harry and I being on police duty, we didn't get off until all the other boys had made beds. They all turned in leaving room for us in the worst part of the car. So we immediately made a kick, produced a broom and shovel, and started to clean out. There were two Sargeants in there and they tried to make us quit and let the others sleep, but we eventually finished the job, and the Sargeants after very heated discussions moved to their own car, appointed for them. We arrived at our destination at 10:15 the next morning. As soon as we unloaded, we were marched away to our new billets. 'T'was a sweltering hot day and we marched about 15 miles with full pack, reaching the farm where we were to be billeted for the night at 6 o'clock. Imagine our disgust when the news went around that there was only a cup of tea for each man for supper! And that's all we got! The reason was, we were issued two meat and one cheese sandwich (doy bread) which was to last us 24 hours. Naturally, we had that all eaten up before we rested for dinner. So we just had to go without. However, we made up for it by ransacking the apple trees and plum trees, filling up our empty stomachs that way. That night, Harry and I made up our beds on the top of a separator (one like Dolson has, you know, one horse power) and at 5 o'clock the next morning the farmer came in and moved us out because he wanted to thresh. We were dismissed for the rest of the day, and I must say it was a day I shall remember. The farm was on top of a very big hill, surrounded by a dense forest, or wood. Once outside the wood, you could see for miles in any direction. About 3 miles down the hill is a little French village with about 5 munitions factories (it's only about 14 miles from the line) and the surrounding country is covered with the grain in the stook. Here and there, you can see a little village. It seems that the people all build together making a small settlement, so they don't actually live on their farm lands. The country is rather hilly, but the crops are splendid. It's very different country to Belgium. They don't grow hops here and the "Estaminets" and stores are not near as numerous. In fact it is very hard to buy anything here. Can't get Cigs for love nor money, and the people wouldn't lift a hand to oblige a soldier unless it was to soak him for something. Well, most of that day Harry and I spent in the woods gathering wood nuts. They are about the size of a hazel nut, and in taste very similar. We ate these until we were uncomfortable. That night we slept under an apple tree, but reveille was at 4:30 am so we weren't in bed long enough to know if it was compfy or not! We left our billet at 7 o'clock and marched another 15 miles to a new billet. This was on a Sunday, and a peach of a day for marching. We took it very easy and reached our billet before 2 o'clock. I think we all rested up that afternoon. Next day, we were dismissed again with instructions to bathe our feet, and do any washing of clothes that was needed, and not to wander to far away, because we were under orders to move at any time. Harry and I spent that day picking blackberries, which are very plentiful here, and exploring a Catholic church built in the 16th century. We climbed the belfry (with peril to our necks), and viewed the surrounding countryside from there. While on the railroad track that day, we saw a train pass by with 200 German prisoners, taken by the Canadian boys, near Albert. They looked very young fellows, and quite contented.
Next day at 7 o'clock Harry and I, and 5 others, were warned for duty "up the line." we fell in at 7:30 and were taken up by Ambulance to our present destination in a "Casualty Clearing Station." I might mention that a C.C.S. is a place where wounded men are brought after receiving attention at the "Advanced Dressing Post." Then from here they are sent down to the base, or else to Blighty, (England) if the case is bad enough. We evacuate every two days. A Red Cross train pulls up alongside the Hospital, and we load the stretchers on. The trains are all beautifully equipped - every necessity imagineable. Three of us are in charge of eight bell tents, and our cases are mental cases (crazy men), and wounded prisoners. Our work is very light, but the hours are so long - from 7am to 7 pm. In the surgical ward, we have some very interesting cases, although very sad. One poor fellow is covered with wounds. His arm is broken, and with a deep wound; three pieces of shrapnel in his lungs; his face half gone; back and legs wounded. He is bandaged from head to foot, but they say he is mending beautifully and will pull through. Another fellow, while tempoariily insane shot and killed a Corporal, wounded another man, and then cut his own throat. He has a terrible wound, but I think he'll get better. Another fellow had his leg amputated three days ago died last night. His case was hopeless from the first. This morning an airman came in. His machine fell about 100 feet. He was brought in a few hours ago and is still unconscious. The Doctors figure he has a fractured spine. If he has, it's all up with him. The Hospital is situated in a small French town about 12 miles from the front line. It is part of a jute factory. The factory is at the rear of the hospital, and they make bread sacks and sand bags there. The Hospital grounds are lovely. Pretty walks, rustic seats, and flower beds growing sweet peas, astors, pansies, roses, stocks, etc - all in full bloom. And there are green lawns all around each tent and marquee. The grounds are wonderfully kept - everything is spic and span. Every evening when we get off duty, Harry and I take a walk up the town and listen to the back concerts. The band plays in the square every evening. And say, it's very funny that over here the lights at nighttime are just as bright as they were before the war, and yet away over in old Blighty, everything is in darkness and here we are, within the reach of the guns. I like this place and sincerely hope we shall stay here for a few weeks. Two at least. Personally, I wouldn't mind staying here for the duration. I would be quite willing to take a "bomb proof" job from now on. Of course send all letters to the same address, because we may leave here any day.
Oh! Yesterday the Indian Cavalry Division passed through the town. In such fact it seemed there were Divisions of horses and men. Think of it! Such a sight. I saw the Gurkhas, Central Indians, Dragoons, Lancers and more. They started going through the town at 11 AM and think the last of them went through at 5:30. And most of them went through town at a trot! Transports, wagons, watercarts, ambulances, and all. And they had some beautiful horses. I never saw such beauties. I was wondering once how Pink would like such and such a horse, but I know had you been there, you would have wanted them all!
Well, I guess I must close now. Please send some cigs. Don't worry about sending anything else. Our issue has been cut down to 20 cigs a week and we can't buy English cigs out here at all. Will write again and let you know if I leave here. I haven't had a letter at all for 12 days. I guess because we have moved around so much.
All my love dear,
yours as ever,