Somewhere in France
Dear Miss Orr:-
I have just re-read your very kind letter of Jan.19 and feel that words cannot express my thankfulness to you for the kindly sympathy which you have expressed. No one has so fully understood or so expressed what the loss of my mother has been to me. I did not realize before how much my mother meant to my life. Perhaps because I am so far away and living under such conditions – I cannot yet realize that I won’t have her there to welcome me when I get back. Mother’s whole time seemed to be taken up with hoping and waiting for me to come home, and it hard to think that she should go first. At least there is this comfort in the otherwise almost numbing sense of loss – if I am killed, she will not suffer and it makes the thought of losing my life less abhorrent. If the spirits of dear departed ones are permitted to visit this world, then as you have said, I know she is with me, and I will be well watched over. Miss Orr – there is not use trying to make you think I’m reconciled – I’m not. Sometimes I feel as though I don’t care what happens to me. You know something of the life I’ve lived since my father turned me away from home. It wasn’t easy for me, and there were many ways of forgetting – but it was the thoughts of my mother and the knowledge that the existing circumstances caused her more suffering than they did me, that kept me from quite disgracing myself and her. Now she’s gone! Do you understand what that means? The future may hold many things for me, undreamed of before – and there is only the memory left as an anchor. I hope I may never do anything to disgrace that memory - but I feel lost – [several lines erased] I am now in complete charge of a machine gun and crew. In the offensive, the lives of at least fifty men depend on me and the way I handle my gun. As you will guess I will be the first man to go over the parapet in the charge and so you will understand that my chances of coming out of the fight are very slim indeed. Why do I tell you this? I scarcely know. I do not say I have a presentiment but frankly I do not expect to get back to Canada, and so I shall not see any of those who have proved such good friends to me again. I could go into battle feeling much happier if I felt sure that in case of losing my life, I would join my Mother. Perhaps I’m more pessimistic tonight than usual and this is anything but a cheerful letter, but Mother’s death has completely upset the lines of my life, and I seem to be like this always now. – Sometimes I look forward to the fight – but enough. In any case if the worst happens please think and remember the best you can of me. I shall not have another opportunity to write you before the eventful day, so let me thank you for the kindly sympathy which you have expressed for me in my bereavement. You have been an invaluable friend to me in the past, and I’m sorry I’ve not been able to show you how much I have appreciated that. If it should please Providence to permit me to return to Canada and to come thru the big fight you’ll just laugh at this blue letter and remember that I had some reason for feeling as I do. Perhaps I’m morbid – and I know my thoughts and my feelings are all jumbled, - but this is an awful life. At time one cannot help feeling he’d almost rather be dead. When every habit and desire of one’s life is outraged continually, - dirt, hunger, vice stripped naked, violence and death in its most awful forms. No friends are made – that may seem strange but I’ve not any real friends here. Why? Men over here take no pains to hide their real selves – and they do not attract me. Of course since the Somme the Regiment is greatly changed – but why should man drop off all the refinements of civilization and lifetime training like an old coat? Practically the only ones in our company who retain any of their previous culture are two or three of our officers – but they are officers and I am at best only a poor Lance corporal, the leader of the suicide club of our platoon – so I get pretty lonesome sometimes.
Now I’m quite sure this is about the queerest letter anyone has ever written to you, but you know a fellow must speak his real thoughts sometimes, so forgive me. I’ll not say good-bye – it sounds too final, but I’ll just say “Au Revoir” – and hope for the best. I hope I may hear from you soon. Give my sincerest regards to Miss Stewart.