3rd Aug 1917
Dear Annie: –
I received your letter yesterday & was glad to hear from you.
There were always some curios in every office I worked in similar to the one you mentioned.
I am with Brigade still. We are at present billeted in a large town, lately occupied by Fritz, from which you can get a good view of a city you read a great deal about.
I saw Phillips about a month or so ago but was not speaking to him. McNeill & I went to look up J.H. English some months ago but didn't see him as he was out when we got to his billet.
Some of the villages around here are levelled to the ground. The city we are in must have had a population of about twenty or twenty-five thousand of a population before the war. I think it was a mining place. The houses are made of bricks. I haven't seen a single one that isn't a total wreck. A good many show no signs of being hit by a shell but look as if they had been wreaked from the inside by an explosion from a bomb.
There are all kinds of household furniture included in the debris. – Talk about guttersnipes. – Nearly every house has three or four old beds, baby carriages, "Singer" sewing-machines, pictures, tables, stoves, nice furniture – fancy chairs, etc. One place has a lot of French schoolbooks, a soda-water fountain & fixtures like a drug-store would have, another is fitted up with old player pianos, slot machines, etc. an old roller rink is all blown in.
The old mattresses & cushions in the baby carriages are stuffed with sea-weed.
The roof of one old house fell down on the street yesterday but no one was hurt.
Almost every house, both here & in other parts of France & Belgium that I have been in, has the cellar divided off in small compartments. These places are certainly built for strength as the walls & roof are at least a foot thick – bricks of course.
It looks to me as if they were built for use in time of war as places of safety, for they are certainly bombproof. I have seen only one that was knocked in.
The Germans had strong points here in plenty.
In some places they had re-inforced concrete four or five feet thick on top of the ground floor – over the brick places in the cellar.
One place the whole first strong is a mass of concrete, with places leading down forty of fifty feet from the cellars to large rooms, nicely fixed up.
From where we are we can see our shells bursting in Fritz's lines. We often see the bricks, from an old house go sky-high in the air.
He tumbles a few over once in a while near where we are. One landed up the street a short distance from us a few days ago but didn't get anyone. Just imagine running to the door to see a show burst up in the street.
We work with our steel lids on & box respirators slung over our shoulder, always ready in case of an emergency. All the billets are gas proof. Blankets, chemically treated, are hung at the entrances. Even the horses & mules have "gas helmets" – a sort of nose-bag.
There is practically no damage, though, as he uses no cloud gas now. The only gas he uses is in shells & has effect only in the small space in the vicinity where the shell lands. Some time ago he put on a small gas bombardment but there were no casualties as the box respirator – a new pattern of gas mask – proved absolute protection.
There's a battery from down home not far from here. I haven't seen any of the fellows of it yet.
I saw a good many of the Yankee troops when I was in Paris.
The sky-pilot of the battalion I used to be in is the one I asked you about some time ago.
Ned Blake is out here a private in the same bunch as Jack Jenkins – a safety – first job.
I just heard that Eon (Goulia) Kelly is not far from here.