Feb. 27th, 1916
Your letter of Jan. 18th is the last one I got. Some of the letters seem to be taking longer to come now, though I don’t know why.
Just now I am at a School of Instruction for N.C.O’s. There are N.C.O’s here from something over 150 Battalions and they are a mixed bunch. There are Jocks from away up in the Highlands, Englishmen from nearly every county, Irishmen and Canadians. The other night I came out of the canteen into the dark just in time to hear, - “Hoo are you, mon?” “Och, grann, hoo’s yersel’?” So I said, “Good night Jock” and two voices answered, “Guid nicht.”
We’ve been having bayonet fighting and one of the Black Watch was telling me how useless the instructions were – “Iss a man to pe watchin’ where his hands are, whateffer, when he’s running over the ground?” he asked. He’d been in some picnics himself and the only thing they seem to think of is to get the other man before he gets you.
I am getting a little bit tired of doing the same squad drill that I’ve done for years. I think the Canadian N.C.O’s are more intelligent than the English. The English are all right but they are laborers and butchers and farmers and they take longer to pick up what they are told than the Canadians. Perhaps the Canadians are better educated.
All leave has been stopped so I won’t get over to the island for a while, if at all.
Just now the ground is covered with about three inches of snow and it’s pretty cold. We are in a big building they (call) the Chateau but which I think must have been a school. We have no fire and it’s not exactly sizzling in the morning. We get up at 6:30 and go for physical drill and then have breakfast. Last Sunday we went over to an aerodrome to see the machines. There were several of them went up while we were there – after three German machines – and one of them later came down. He had run out of gasoline and ammunition. The planes were punctured by shrapnel and bullets but neither he nor the engine had been hit. The barrel of his M.G. was too hot to touch. He went up again in a few minutes and they drove the Bosches back over the line.
I saw an article in an English paper the other day about the mud in the trenches. It was all right only it wasn’t strong enough. The stuff isn’t clean dirt, like that at home but it’s filled with all kinds of animal matter. Where the line runs through a village you get manure, scraps of rotten food dead bodies of men and animals and all other unclean things. Even when you are in the middle of a field the soil stinks. In one trench we were in they dug up two Frenchmen, a German and a British soldier.
Perhaps you would like to know what they worry us with in the trenches. The big shells don’t generally hit in the front line trench. “Whiz-bangs” are the commonest ones there. They are small H.E. (high explosive) shells fired from close behind the German lines. You don’t hear them ‘till they’re there. Then they use trench mortars, of course, just a can of explosives fired from a tube. You can hear and see them, and nearly always get out of the way. They have aerial torpedoes just like a big cigar with flukes on the side and a revolving tail to keep it straight. It goes away up in the air and comes straight down with an awful crash. It works very well – but you can hear and see it too. Then there are all kinds of grenades – rifle grenades with a rod through them which is run down the barrel of a rifle and fired that way. It goes off on striking anything and the iron shell is blown to pieces. The latest German one is certainly an ingenious thing. Then there are hand bombs, some of which are set off by concussion but most of which are provided with time fuses. I think our hand bomb is much better than the Germans although we had to learn from them. Then of course they mine under our lines and sometimes blow them up. Most of the mines, however, go off just in front of the line and there is generally a rush to occupy the “crater”. Don’t think that because I am telling you about these things that I am sorry I came here. They are hard on the nerves all right but you soon get over their effect and besides, the Canadian front at least, is very quiet right now.
If I had got my leave I think I would have seen Col. Rogers about getting a commission in the Highlanders – Black Watch, Camerons or Gordons – it doesn’t matter which. I wouldn’t like to go and form fours in England for months, though. I would want to come out here again or go to some other front.
I forgot to say that Billy Griesbach came to see some of us just before I came to this school. He sounded as though he were practicing a political speech. I never heard so much hot air since I came out here. He told us a stirring little tale about one night when we were in the line and there was a little excitement in front. The brigade got the alarm to “stand to” and Billy tells how his men (in rest miles behind the line) turned out, rolling up their sleeves and saying “let the devils come, we’ll settle them!” I don’t know exactly why they rolled up their sleeves, perhaps so the German blood wouldn’t dirty their tunics. To hear Billy talk, or any of his battalion, you would think that they, with some slight assistance from the French and Russians, were beating the Germans.
Well, it’s pretty late so I will finish. I will try to get a letter for father finished and some for the girls, if I can.
With love from Your son
Alec R. McQueen