77681 Cpl. J McNeill
#4 Platoon - 1 Company -
15th Battalion - 48th Highlanders.
P.S. I have not got the parcels yet, but I should get them any time now, as all the boys here are expecting parcels that have been long overdue they must have been held up somewhere on account of heavy traffic. I will write soon again.
October 5th 1915
My own darling,
I am glad to say that I am out of the trenches again for a few days & am now in billets, we had a rotten time of it in the trenches this time, it rained pretty nearly all the time & the mud was fearful, the soil round here is all clay & it sticks like glue to the clothes & is so slippery that if one makes a false step he is sure to go down & you can imagine how hard it is to get along when one has a pack on his back & all his ammunition & equipment & his rifle, besides having to carry his grub, altogether I think we pack about 50 pounds when we are marching. One night I had to take two shifts on listening post each one two hours long, I had to go along a small trench or ditch for about 30 yards to a hole in the ground, it was half full of water & we had to sit in that, it was pouring rain all the time & I was soaked to the skin, I dont know when I felt so miserable, when we are in the trenches we are not allowed to take off any of our clothing or equipment, we have to sleep with everything on, it does’nt matter how wet we are, so you can imagine what it feels like, not to have your boots off for a week & your feet sopping wet all the time, the Germans were very busy too, they shelled us every day, but most of their shots went away behind us, we had one narrow escape though, four of us were making our supper & we had made tea in our canteens & had laid them on a board in front of our dug out to cool when a whiz-bang hid our parapet & knocked off a lot of sandbags at the same time filling our canteens with dirt, our tea & jam was all spoiled & we had to start in & make more tea, which was no joke, as every thing was damp & it was quite a job to get a fire going, another day one of our boys was watching through a periscope, when a German bullet hit it & broke the glass, one of the pieces cutting him below the eye, it was a good job it did not get him right in the eye. Another disagreeable experience we had this time was a dead German lying outside our trench, he had been lying there for several days, the story we got afterwards was, that he had come over to give himself up & the fellows who were in the trench before us, shot him, you see, he came over at night & the sentry thought he was going to attack & shot him, when we came into the trench they did not tell us about it & the first thing we knew of it was the smell, he lay there for two days before we got a chance to bury him & he was so far gone that we just dug a hole & shoveled him into it, such is war & war is hell, it is a pity that any man should be buried without his name being known, but on the battlefield the niceties of civilization are forgotten, there are a few graves in our lines marked with wooden crosses & the legend “To an unknown Soldier R.I.P,” printed on them, but fortunately such are very rare & most of our poor fellows who have gone under have had a proper Christian burial, same as poor old Rendall had. When we came out of the trench our platoon was taken back to a town close by & put up in a barn, while we were there the Germans shelled the town & some of the shells fell in the same street that we were in, but we did not stay long there, I am glad to say, we came on here to these billets where we are quite safe, the only thing that worries us is the mud & it is fierce, in some places it is nearly up to the knees & it is always over the boot tops, our kilts & putties are caked with it & taking us altogether we are not the smart looking lot that we were some months ago, this morning we all had a hot bath & I can tell you we were glad to get it, they gave us a clean shirt & a towel & pair of socks & generally made us feel like new men, I can tell you a bath of any kind out here is a luxury & we dont get near enough of them. We have just had supper & to night we had a treat in the shape of Canned Salmon, we had a tin between every two men, which was as much as any of us wanted, the trouble with our rations is that we dont get enough change it is the same old thing every day, sometimes we get a bit of bacon for breakfast & very often we just get dry bread & tea & jam, then for dinner it is nearly always Mulligan, that is, the meat & potatoes are all boiled up together & then for tea it is always the same old thing, tea jam & cheese & we never have enough bread, lately we have been getting two loaves for 10 men, sometimes we get three & that has to do three meals, so you see there is no danger of us getting too fat on this job, of course, now we are in billets we can buy bits of things to help out, but when we are in the trenches we have to make out the best we can with what they give us. We are getting it pretty cold here now & I guess we feel it worse with the rain, we have each got a blanket now to sleep in, but we have had no issue of underclothing yet, we are just wearing the same stuff as in the hot weather & we would appreciate very much if they would give us undershirts & mittens or Cardigan jackets, we will get them all right but I am afraid it will be some time yet. I had to give up writing last night as it got too dark & I had no candle, we have just come off parade & have now got the rest of the day to ourselves, but no one is allowed to go to far away as we are liable to get orders to move at any moment. We are going to get a change of kilts soon the ones we have are too light for this cold weather, they are going to give us khaki ones, they are much heavier. I got your letter last night dated Sept 13th also one from George & Eileen & I am awfully glad to hear that you are all well, I suppose you will be feeling pretty lonely now that all your boarders have left you, are you going to take in any more? I guess it is going to make an awful difference to Vernon if they take all the troops to the coast, but I think myself that Vernon is too cold, at any rate the coast makes a better training area in the winter, but Vernon is the best for the summer, at the same time I cant see why they should not give the troops the chance to rough it & get used to living out in bad weather, the weather makes no difference out here & many a time we have to sleep outside no matter how cold & wet it is & If the troops at home were used to roughing it a little more they might not feel the hardships out here so much, however I guess the authorities at home have to make them as comfortable as possible to give them a good time or they would not get so many to join. I am glad you have got all the furniture you want, dear, I am sure it looks all right, I only wish I was at home with you to enjoy it all, I am sure we would all be very comfortable together, you mention in your letter about being lonely without me, & I am sure you are, dear, I know I am, if you only knew how homesick I get sometimes, I feel absolutely miserable & when I get that way everything seems to go wrong, it is hard to be cheerful under the circumstances out here, what with the discomforts & the constant strain on the mind & body, it is next to impossible to be cheerful, of course, our officers do their best to keep us from thinking long, they organize concerts & Ball games etc when we are in billets & when we are in reserve we are kept busy digging trenches etc, & these things serve to take our minds off other things, but notwithstanding all this, I cant help feeling lonely, dear, I am constantly thinking of you & our dear children & wishing for the time when we will all be together again; let us hope that it wont be long now, the sooner it is over the better pleased I shall be & I am sure you will be too. I have got a beastly bad cold just now, the first I have had since I came out here, my head is running to beat the band & my throat is sore, I should have gone to the doctor this morning, but if I am no better to morrow I will certainly go & see him, it is nothing to worry about, just a bad cold, that is all.
So Edwards is a corporal now, well, I am glad to hear it, is he still talking about getting out of it, of course, being in the canteen he will have a snap & I guess that is what he was looking for, he must be making pretty good at it, if he is buying gold rings for his wife, I am sure he could’nt do it on his salary, however that is up to him.
Yes, I guess Harlow forgot all about the parcel & I am afraid the other people will, too, they are always good at making promises, but they soon forget, if they only knew how we appreciate any little thing at all, out here, I think they would send more things, we get mighty few comforts.
I hope you had good weather while the Duke was there, I am sure it must have been a fine sight & I guess the children would enjoy seeing so many soldiers march past, I wish I could have been there to see it, but I have been in so many of them now that the novelty has worn off & I would like to act the part of spectator again.
Now my loved one dont you be uneasy about me, I am taking good care of myself & I am not taking any needless chances, things are looking a whole lot brighter just now than they have done in months, our troops are doing splendid work, & if they keep it up, I think the war will soon be over, it is liable to end just as sudden as it started & then sweetheart, away for home & love, yes dear, I have a whole lot of love stored up for you & it is going to take me all my life to work it off, it is a true saying that absence makes the heart grow fonder, & the longer I am away from you the more I want to love & to be loved by you, I know you love me, sweetheart, & many a time when I am feeling lonely I say to myself that my darling is thinking & praying for me at home & she loves me, oh my dear, if you & I could only be together again, there is nothing ever going to part us again, once I get home, they can have all the old wars they want, they wont get me in it again. Tell George & Eileen that I got their nice letters all right, & that I will come home as soon as I can, tell them that I will send them some more postcards as soon as I can get some, there is none for sale round here & tell them to write some more, daddy likes to get letters from his little darlings, I am only sorry that I am not able to send them & you something worth while. I am sorry to say that I have missed the post for to day & this letter wont go now till to-morrow, however, it cant be helped, I just felt that I could not break off writing in the middle of the letter, somehow, I feel when I am writing to you that I am closer to you & it seems more as if I were talking than writing to you, I dont have any news to tell as one day is pretty much the same as any other out here, but I guess you dont care how disconnected my letters are, so long as you hear that I am all right, well dear, I think this is all just now, kiss the children for me & give them a great big love from their old Dad & with all my love to you my darling sweetheart & lots of kisses I remain as ever
Your loving Husband