June 2, 1916
A Stand Down. Went on a walk to Zellebeke. I have neither the time nor the inclination to write these days. I believe I shall remember the red of the beautiful evening sun as we march along, strung out is sixes, 50 feet apart. We pass shell holes, dead horsed and pass a quarter mile where huge trees were broken off, their branches and leaves covering the road. We wondered if we should see the sun again for, by the roar of the guns and the stories of awful things we had heard, we knew that a hot time faced us. Nearing the Asylum high explosives burst a hundred yards away sending a piece of shrapnel to land at Bert's feet frightening him. Then our walk close up to the Asylum walls and our retreat inside in great haste. We rest there and on with the stretchers.
June 11, 1916
Steen-voorde, France. With great pleasure came down here into France to assist Bee in carpentry work. Much mud and rain but it's a splendid distance from the war. S. said today he might be happy at the Front but he was happier ten miles back and happier still a hundred miles away.
June 18, 1916
A lovely Sunday in sunny France. Put the roof on the cook house then quite for church parade held in Sick Tent.
Down the street to see the people come from the church, a motley crowd. Women old and young, kiddies, boys and old men, soldiers, nuns, an old withered priest. Some taste in dress but distinct French character about it. That France was at war could be clearly seen. Widows in their long enveloping veils of black crape. Some of them with the bloom of girlhood yet upon them. The rustle of the crape, thirty miles behind the firing line speaks more loudly of the devastation of war than the roaring guns. At the Front churches fall, towers rattle down, men fall dead and are maimed. Yes and hearts are hardened and hatred sown but the greatest part of a nation is the homes of the people and here the rustle of black crape tells of broken hearts, shrunken lives, souls from which hope, comradeship and sunshine are gone forever. A child which might have grown up in education and culture must pass a life under the pinch of poverty and the dark slavery of ignorance. If war has a patron spirit he is a full brother of Satan and scatters, with a copious hand, all manner of evil over mankind. The evil which we have been least conscious of was that which came to the door of the home with the official letter stating that the husband and father had been killed. The loving, patient, valiant heart that struggled there with tears held down to flourish and support the kiddies. One who would not, could not, tell the world about that struggle or asking no questions why. Making no loud cry of protest. How much do we value life or appreciate the greatness of the sacrifice. Like heathen gods we have ears deaf to the cry of the sacrificed.
June 20, 1916
Still here at same job and same place. Lovely warm weather. Quiet and at a pleasant distance from the war. Troops and the things of war pass up and down, aeroplanes pass over on unknown errands. We hear that our fellows have returned to the Rest Camp and we can rest here as well as there. They are not in danger and hardship.
When will the war be over? God knows I can not see. Many a man sitting in England in velvet chairs or in France in some base hospital or bomb proof job criticise and ask why not go into a Great Drive. Those in the front lines, a hundred times more heroes, say it should not be so. Here is a fellow who was sent down because his hands trembled so he dropped the stretcher. This is the fellow most ready to criticise.
Situations alters cases and the looks of things. The wife of an ammunition manufacturer with fortunes pilling up in the thousands may rejoice at it all as one at a feast while the women in black, with heart full of bitter tears, fights grimly to maintain her family. How far can one see into each others hearts and enter into the others feelings? Each does not bother or has not time or desire to see beyond the border of her own home.
June 23, 1916
Walked with Bee to Cassel, a town 7 km away which is situated on the top of Mount d' Ecouffe. It is a city old and gray. In places grass grows up between the cobble stones and the houses press the poor, rough side walk almost out of existence. A single, lonely, street car stands at the end of rusty rails in the square. The streets curve this way and that up hill and down in blissful ignorance of geometric form or architectural plan. Little narrow roads lead down through arched gateways to other cities and a sign tells their destination as ‘Le Poste du Belgium’. The city has an atmosphere about it that reflect the days when cities were stormed with catapult and arrow.
From the top of the mountain, on which is situated a large imposing building, the view extends over miles and miles of territory until it fades in the mist. A pair of glasses reveals the cities of the coast and the ocean. A wonderful view over fertile fields lying on irregular squares marked off by hedges of bramblethorn, Salley and mixed bush. A road leads off into the far distance lined with trees.
The stores have a greater range the people are better dressed and more care free. Belgian refugees are still met with.
June 24, 1916
The usual work. In the evening I walk out some 3 km to find a quiet place to write. Meet many Canadians, every barn seems full of them and quite a number of pasture fields are given over to their games. They chat with the people with very limited French, especially the girls. A chorus of the laughter of girls comes across the evening fields and you are sure the cause of it is the Tommies chaffing. There is a greater freedom here than in Belgium. Bee wandered around town looking for something interesting and talked with a mother and daughter Belgian refugees. She described their experiences with the Germans. The cruelty of the latter is as we have heard described. They tell of passed a house in which three people were hiding in the attic. The Germans set fire to it and the roof fell in upon the poor wretches. The Germans took 500 women and children, among which were they themselves, and marched them ahead of them to meet the French. They forced them at the point of the bayonet and 300 of them were killed. The other 200 were allowed to escape. This is a most unvarnished and true account told by these highly respected and well-to-do people.
June 25, 1916
To a Roman Catholic mass at 10:30 with three other chaps. It was Corpus Christi day and the church was crowded with women, children, soldiers and nondescript men. There was an ancient police man with a long, white, flowing beard. He wore a high Napoleon shaped hat brimmed with much white fur and gold braid, a wide crimson and gold sash holding a brass hilted sword, black clothes with much gold braid an inch wide and carried a combination pike and battle axe. He continually walked up and down among the people during the whole service. An old priest with a huge waist band from which hung a short robe of lace over his black gown with doubtful grace, preached in French. One could get but little of what he said but you could feel the thrill of his enthusiasm. One of us who understood it all said it was the same old things heard in every R.C. sermon. Where then he could get his enthusiasm from I know not. He started out with a burst of patriotism, calling on the people to pray for France and her soldiers. To pray too for the Valiant Canadian soldiers, pointing directly at us four, who had left their homes so far behind to fight here in France. Later he took up his promenade amongst the people at the back, seeming to read a prayer book but often he would glance over the top, with an eye most sever, to detect any bad boy playing in church. Once the book was used to slap the offender. The book I gather was to aid in the catching of such. The organ and music was very fine.
In the afternoon, Bee and I walked to Hazebrouck, a distance of 20 km. Of course we took the wrong road but, with the aid of a French phrase I learned the day before, we go in the right direction again.
We soon came to a village filled with Australians. As we entered, an officer with a kit bag commandeered us to carry it for him. By his complete forgetfulness of his clothes and his geniality we saw that he was partly drunk. He walked along by our side talking cheerily, offered Bee a drink from his bottle. He said ‘You know I have been drinking but you can't blame me, I am going up to the trench tonight.’ Of course that was one reason we did blame him.
We got into the tall busses and away off across the country. Then, walking 6 km, we reached the town of H. in time to see the church parade. People in their best and the best of people. It seemed like returning to the world.