By kind permission of Col. Neil F. MacNachtan, C. V.D., we are allowed to publish the following letter from his son, who is at the Front in France.
March 2nd, 1915.
After this waiting, I have, at last, had my 'baptism of fire' and came out with a whole skin. A few of the men were chosen from each Canadian Brigade to go out to the firing line to see how things were done and I was one of the lucky ones. The infantry were attached, so many to a battalion of the imperials and we were attached to different royal field batteries.
We were shelled three or four times but there were no casualties among the two batteries we were with, although some shells burst decidedly, and I may add, unpleasantly close. I also spent one night up in the trenches with the infantry and had several shots at the German trenches with a rifle. I only saw one German, he stuck his head and shoulders above the parapet long enough for me to take a snip at him. I squirted dirt over him but I do not think that I hit him, however he stayed down the rest of the time I was out there. There was one poor Canadian shot within a few yards of me. It was a horrible sickening sound to hear a bullet hit a man. The bullet struck him on the right side of the neck and came out through his left shoulder. It looked like a dum-dum for there was a hole larger than my clenched fist where it came out. Half a dozen bullets struck the sandbags over my head, but they might as well been miles away. At first I ducked, instinctively, every time a rifle cracked or a bullet whistled near me, but it is wonderful how quickly one becomes accustomed to it. After a few moments of it, one doesn't pay any attention to them.
When I was going out to the trenches the brutes turned a maxim loose down a railroad that we had to walk along. There were bullets buzzing around us like bees.
To go back a few weeks. We had a rather exciting trip across in a rotten little cattle boat; it pitched and rolled like a cork a good many of those on board are sick, but either I am lucky, or a good sailor, anyway I refused to feed the fish. We were tumbled into box cars, and had a beautiful two days ride. The railway at its worst can't hold a candle to that railroad. I thought we were off the track and running along the sleepers. It was great!
There is not much going on at present, practically all sniping. The Germans have some wonderful shots among them, although they are not, as an army any better shots than our Tommies. The swine usually fire a few shells over just at meal hours or as the men are going to bed. Then it is 'Stand to' for perhaps an hour and break off or on lucky occasions a few rounds are fired back. It is wonderful the small attention paid to bullets and shellbursts. Men and women walk along roads and streets apparently quite unconcerned. One day we got a 'stand to.' There was a man ploughing right behind the guns, a good many shells were bursting in the field in which he was working but he paid no attention until one burst really close to him. He looked at us, laughed shrugged his shoulders, French fashion, and calmly proceeded to unhook his horses and get out without any hurry or fuss. Is there anything one cannot become accustomed to?
We are limited to two letters per week per man which is rather a hardship.
EDMUND L. MacNACHTAN.