July 8, 1916
During the past days I have spent two days in hospital and many more days in which I felt like doing nothing. Influenza they say.
The Great Drive has started. The fellows talk rather more gloomily about the end of the war.
Last night Mothersill took Bee and I to supper. Lovely tomatoes and plums. Jerry H. got very angry because the fellows rode him in his bed and carried him bodily out of doors to the guard tent. He walked back as one doing penance over stones and thorns but he lacked the patient spirit. He was to be teased after but he proved so angry that the fellows had mercy.
In the hospital I hear the story of a Cpl. who was buried to his neck.
A report that mail comes through but once every two weeks which rouses much strong feeling until we realize it is necessary.
July 9, 1916
Had Holy Communion in Marqee with the patients who took it laying on their stretchers. Blankets folded on the floor received knees of the communicants. The altar was a table covered with the flag, a bouquet of white hedge flowers and candles.
Tried some water colouring. Went to the YMCA sing-song and a sermon by Mothersill on ‘Freedom’.
Received four letters and was happy for the evening reading and writing.
July 10, 1916
Refused permission to go on duty unless necessary. Read and write. Tried to find Harry Potter. I find his Regiment, Company and Platoon but no one knew him. It seemed as if he had never been there. Believing the address wrong I go back but meet a sniper of the Regiment and inquired of him. He told me he was likely ‘growing’ behind Ypres. He told me of the very few who came out uninjured and alive, how, on that fatal morning of June 2nd he met his brother-in-law just for a moment after hearing his name called. The first acquaintance and the last for a shell caught him a moment later. He will be reported missing and so will many more for, blown to pieces or buried in a rush, their disks were not recovered. He showed me the roll. One page showed the names of those who came out safe, a very few names of those reported killed, then some ten pages of those missing. No further information.
We are surely having an easy time of it as Allen says. A happy go lucky time if it wasn't for the danger. Yes, that's it. Happy if there was not so much question about the lucky. As happy as in this unnatural life one can be. Life in which nearly every action is under certain limitations met at every turn. Must beg for ones clothes from the Q.M, eat what is served to you and find no fault, spend what they give you, go where and when you are told so that to keep a chum is nearly impossible. In your leisure hours go where they will permit you on foot and if you fail to have a pass be liable to be held up and made a prisoner, lose your emergency rations and be liable to Field Punishment. This is a brutal punishment where one is tied up to a tree in the sun with hands above head, tied sitting on the top of a pole or tied stretched out on a gate in the sun. The happy and the lucky both are in peril continually. Still one can be quite happy and, when we get back with whole skins, we will look back and find we enjoyed it somewhat.
Here we have great liberties for there are so few of us. Go as far as we can, go to bed at all hours, rise at seven, go to town at any time, fine food and the officers don't bother us much.
July 11, 1916
I spend morning reading and the afternoon sketching. When I returned I was paraded before Major H. for being away. I was secured as the prisoner and, with an atmosphere sulfurous and wrathful, was full of the foul ash of coming doom. I felt the fame of inferred guilt that onlookers give criminals. The preliminary questions snapped out. Then, into the august presence, the salute, and ‘Private Townsend, Sir’. Without looking up the Major questions and ones morality is strained under the stress to choke back words which carry the truth but can not be said to him. ‘Just in the field behind the hotel, Sir.’ He was fine.
Another search after news of Harry Potter. A Cpl. who had survived the 1lth Platoon and had known him told me the story of his experiences of the other day, but no news of Potter. His chum is in an English hospital and he might know.
July 12, 1916
Quiet day, little work, showery. Many stories as to where we shall go when we move which must be soon. One story has it to Sommes, another, to some base hospital, another back to Ypres. Did not realize this was the Glorious Twelfth till Bee spoke of it after I got in bed.
July 13, 1916
Pay Day. Painting tents brown so that they might be invisible from above to aeroplanes. At night I was writing. Sgt. M. came in after nine and ordered lights out. One kid, half drunk, gave him lip. ‘He was only a disreputable Sgt. A slinger of No. 9 pills.’ Sgt. L. at once appeared and all lights were put out. I had to spread my blanket in the darkness until someone came in and lit up. Roberts seems to be blossoming forth in a more congenial atmosphere. Poor kid. Nature has been unkind, has withheld either brains or something or slept and forgot to put them in. God pity him in his suffering.
Harris was partly drunk. His God is a joke, a jovial air. Good hearted chap and pleasant to converse with and witty.
Cpl. Martin is a sturdy chap such as you will see at prayer meetings of a Wednesday evening with his wife and, each day in the week, with a white apron behind the counter of the village store doling out tea and sugar with the contented air of pious purity.
Williamson still pours out his iron chunks of __(?)__ in a hard tone of complete self assurance.
Todd is the incarnate of the English Church. All things done decently and in order. A man who loves the cozy corner in a neat, urbane, little home.
Young, the linguist, actor, artist, musician, lover of the beautiful, quietly artistic. The incarnation of a higher class.
Mountain the devil-may-care. With a dash and without principle. He believes there is no good or wit in the world. Fun he would have though he must crush things. He has a self- assertive will, is vengeful and has a crime sheet and a promised D.C.M.
Cedars a mild and would be boss in a mine. A man who has read some. Most sure of his original opinions, knows little of the width of things, steady. He is still suffering from the shock of battle on weakened nerves and is coming out of a sad reserve. Loves argument and the English Church.
Bell, the loud, devil-may-care. Not so mountainous as Mountain. The fellow who shoals everybody up and glories is thankless tasks. He is effective in exiting all traces of slumber from the barn, loves to tease Harris who swears lustily he will not get up until he has gone and his blanket torn violently from him, a cook, a husband perhaps when at home, here a drinker and a libertine.
Jones the Black Watchman, conquering all things by force, a terrible self assurance, loves praise, is a companion of Bell.
July 14, 1916
Hear a report that we are to remain till the 20th. Had tooth filled at last. Before, on some five occasions I had been turned away. Many women at dentists. The end of the war seems an indefinite distance off.
Found a huge ‘crumb’ which shouldn't have been there after that fine bath on Thursday.
The Major was away and I could not get a pass. Kept calling until supper time when I went away to sketch. A letter from Nellie waiting for me when I came home at dark.
A long talk with Ross who comes over and lays down beside me just as I was settling to read my darlings letter. Thought the houses would never all get built for he is an architect, had attended McDowell College.
Nothing new, just the same routine of meals, uncertainty as to what work is to be avoided, the thousand laws and euphonies of corporals, sergeants, captains. Same unending procession of the things of war, Canadian troops, cavalry, artillery, infantry with the occasional brass band but more often apparently the bag pipes. The pipes still pouring out their shrill joyous defiance of any foe.
July 15, 1916
Never expected to be here at this date. They say now the 20th. A glorious morning. Hear something of hostile aeroplanes, bombs dropped in early morning somewhere. Old Pop still gets it. We can hear occasionally the dull boom of a huge shell. The report is of 50 shells in today.
July 21 - 27, 1916
On Saturday we moved across the Y.M. fields to the bunch of huts previously occupied by XI M.A.C. We are disgusted when we hear we were only to be there for a day. Around comes an officer of No. 8 to verify the story. Next we encamp in a long low hut with straw roof. Nearby, through the field, ran a road to Camelot perhaps and along it passed people of all descriptions. Most were women, old, slovenly and ugly looking with crowds of children a little more dirty and slovenly. There were a few girls more or less pretty and fussed up. One greeted me tenderly. ‘Good day to you dear’. Coming to a brand new place the welcome was most pleasant surely. Beside this nondescript crowd there were a host of pigs, cows, calves and a bull that made the night especially hideous with his roaring.
Sunday night we had the concert by a Private from the 60th who had been the leading violinist in Orphean Theatre, Montreal. Pte. Young was on the piano. It was quite wonderful, an exquisite treat.
Monday, moved up to Poperinghe and met all the old chaps and the many new ones. Pleasant to get back and hear their tales of adventure and pleasure. Came up with an immense load of material in the big motor van. The supper at 7:30 after hard work made the bully beef taste delicious. After an evening talk, sleep with Bee in hut 10.
Tuesday, packing and clearing. Shall we take one blanket or two? On the one hand the prospect of a night of shivering under one blanket on the floor. On the other, three miles march \with full kit and no unnecessary additions please. With great courage inquire of Sgt. King about my kit. He is now growing whiskers so as to make him look like King Edward. Dental Sgt. secured me to help load his material and by a vigorous pulling of the strings got my kit on too. Harrah. You pack mules, donkeys, asses, look at me going light. I helped Bert and A.P. with their two blankets each.
Arrived and back into old barn in an anxious pushing to get a favourite corner. Bert and I got in together with Mac in the darkest part. The huge blanket question was here settled, as all questions nearly, except the one, which was first, the hen or the egg. There stood a huge pile of blankets and stretchers.
Such was our arrival at Old Brandhoek after many days away since April 25. The dressing station is much the same in smells, depressing shadows and connections. The civilians are fewer and the grave yard larger. Every third day we are on duty, also every third night. The weather is hot and dusty almost as hot as Ontario.
July 30, 1916
Sunday. At 10 we gather in the main dressing station for a church service by Mothersill. It was pleasant under the shade trees by the hedge. The afternoon was spent lazily reading and talking.
Bee considers the army an ideal life. Ones food, clothing, tobacco, drink, in fact all, are provided. Your position is sure, you can't lose your job. As a child in its parents care we all belong to the state, like rather a machine in its owners care. What can be done to make it work well and be effective. Surely here the ideal of the Socialist is secured. First the first great layered stratum, all privates feeding at the same table, wearing the same quality clothes, receiving the same amount of pay. Fraternity, Equality is secured par excellence even if Liberty is not. The only passions which has not been exiled from our brains, our love for lazy hours and home.True, among some there may be a love of beer, good tobacco and ---. And among all of us a hatred for bully beef, cheese and marmalade except after returning hungry from a long walk in the evening and we steal it. But why should we toil and make perpetual moans over aching muscles, weary brains, unsuccessful competitions, increased price of food stuffs, changing markets? The warm sun shines and the grass of Belgium is green, the moon takes her sleepy journey through lazy night clouds. Let her be our ideal though every thing we touch does not turn to silver as it does for her.
Listen to the night guns boom, boom and see their angry orange flame lick the darkness like a serpents tongue. But they are far away and British and speak with a friendly voice and we sleep as if lulled to slumber by a mothers song. Someplace, some miles away in the German lines, the hellish shells shake the earth and tear rocks or flesh, just as the tornado waves suck to death an unlucky ship, only quicker. With a roar and crash the blinding flames turns the stoutest heart to water and ashes. Hearts that have grown strong through countless ages of conflict, with all that nature can do by starvation, storm, disease and by all that man can devise to afflict his fellow or by all that his blind, monstrous passions and ambition make him do. Stout to stand all this, yet before these hellish shells, our courage is as a snow flake in summer heat, a grass leaf in a furnace blast or a babies spirit in the land of the lost. But the guns were British and the flesh they tore was German. Every German less, that died, sent flickers of satisfaction, added a drop of honey to the ravishing appetite for revenge, made the peace hungered for by all that's good within us, come a little nearer. We can not see them die, they are beyond the ridge in the darkness there and imagination disregards their pain. If we had seen the latter it would have made the warm tears rise, our revenge, hatred and desire for victory still strong, we would have said ‘poor devils’ as we shoved in another shell with compressed lips and pale cheek.
At 7 o'clock we went on duty. At twelve some cases came in, mostly walking, two or three stretchers during the night. One, wounded in the small of the back in a way you would have thought would have stilled him forever lay on his stomach, under his great coat, a stock of heavy hair and ready for any fun expression. He was pulling a cigarette and talking to all with animation. If doped he didn't show it. ‘No pain now.’ Though whenever a medic approached a flicker of fear of further suffering would come over his face. Once, one came, to put the T with an indelible pencil to indicate the injection for Tetanus had been given. I was watching and saw him set his teeth as the pencil touched, then, when he found out it was only a pencil marking he smiled in a relieved and rather touching way. His companion was a dark man, dignified, with a greater age and experience. He talked freely of how they were digging a great ditch fifteen feet deep with dug outs as a home for soldiers, shell proof and comfortable. They had got on top of the bank and a machine gun caught three of them but killed none. Then he described how the war was in the salient at present. There is no continuous effort, just sniping, machine guns, an occasional shell sent any unexpected place such as the Cloths Hall in Ypres which they feared was being used as an observation post, Lilles Gate, the square, the roads at any point. One never knew what to expect. His wound was in the larger part of the thigh, very bloody and painful looking but just a good Blighty We told him and he didn't seem to suffer. He said he didn't know what had happened to him, a blow like that of a huge sledge hammer struck him and rolled him over in a heap. After this much of his story I went back to my lad lying on his stomach to give him a drink. Water he asked for, but on suggestion, desired lime juice. He smacked his lips over it. ‘I didn't get my tot of rum today but I got lime juice’ he said in an appreciating way. Another fellow sat sideways on the bench. A slight battle wound prevented the further use of the bench. Another had his arm in a sling. This was the only bunch of importance during the night. Nearer morning I had a good hour sleeping.
Much washing of dishes, giving cocoa to all casual comers, motor ambulance drivers, men on guard, those of our staff, horse ambulance men coming in at all hours. The cocoa would get cold and muddy and the primus stove was used. The hours went quite quickly and the morning light welcome.
July 31, 1916
Monday. Something dropped from the sky with a whurring noise. Bombs, dead shell, shell nose, I know not, but it didn't go off and the sky seemed clear of everything. The hideous down- rushing noise of it made each man think his hour had come. On the sound, the three of us, under the shade of the old shed, woke with rapidity before unknown and sprang for the close friendship of the old tree. All sleep was banished by it and conjectures were made as to what it was. A new experience and we laughed at ourselves and laid down to talk some more. In the afternoon a pass to Poperinghe for bath. Hot, hot, hot. Dust everywhere near any highway where the motor buses, ammunition wagons and horsemen march in a cloud. The men walking behind have faces gray with dust, their khaki uniforms in no way changed in colour, taking dust as a duck takes to water. The water of the bath was warm but odorous as if from some pond long stagnant.
A lecture by a major in the evening as to medical organization and medical attitude towards the men. The aim was to make an efficient army as large and fit as possible with no regard to sentiment. A man with a small leakage of the heart remains at his post. In some few years the break would come more quickly because he was at the Front. Then he dwelt at some length with the two filth diseases. The one regarded by the men as much as a joke. G. was really the worst for intense suffering and violent death. Breaking out is spinal meningitis and other things. At first they treated them in hospital and kept them until cured but this took a large number of the men from the Front. It had become a popular way of retiring from the action. Making inquires in one part especially pested, women were found there who agreed, on payment of 5 francs, to give men their disease and thus a trip to a safe place. They are now doctored up quickly and sent back. They will, in a few years, find themselves a hopeless wreck but the war must have men. The other which all know is much more incurable and contagious. The victims of this have to be taken away for, from them, the disease can be caught by the innocent. It seems heartlessly cruel, this attitude of sending them back to the trenches but perhaps it is not worse than death by gunfire.