Dear Father, Mother & All:-
Sunday evening, Christmas Eve, and I will start a letter now and finish it later. I am orderly officer to-day so have been busy and will be so till late tonight. Well the most important piece of news is that I have been to the trenches. I did not go as I expected I would in last letter but instead of the other officer going I went and instead of four days we are only staying two till after the New Year so that every officer and man will have either Xmas or New Year in billets.
I am billeted in the priest's house (have not seen him yet) and am quite comfortable. The room, thank heaven, is upstairs and is not the cold stone thing which every French ground floor has and there is a stove, a very tiny one in it. The whole aspect of the country gives me the idea of decay and deterioration. The church just across the road was built in 1780 and is of stone surrounded by a wall which encloses a rather small yard as well which is just about full of graves. The people are nearly all dressed in black. The organ which I could hear playing this morning has a very nice tone but the music must be of about the 14th century to judge by the dismal effect it produces on me. This house is of brick quite large also surrounded in front by a high brick wall and on the large front gate built with an arch over it is a notice:- "Sonnez s.v.p." At night in the dark and dreary atmosphere which pervades the place the wind sometimes makes this bell ring. At one corner of this yard and built into the wall is a small house apparently the erstwhile abode of some sort of a guardian who when the church and country wore in a more prosperous condition than now, resided there and let such persons only in as were entitled to have that honour.
With exception of the O.C. and one other officer who came when I did, the Officers are all English and naturally I feel a bit at a loss and lonesome among them. Their manner, though, betokens refinement and good breeding and they are all very nice, some exceptionally so. They are nearly all quite young men and seem to be mining engineers or have followed mining in civil life. The Batt'n or Coy. as it is called are R.Es.1.c. Royal Engineers and have a reputation for being just a little better than ordinary infantry are. They are doing tunneling here and as I said work in two shifts regularly of 4 days each, 4 in and 4 out here in billets, which I consider very easy. The "Attached Infantry officer" as we are called have no mining to do - we merely act as sort of orderly or billeting officers. To-day I had to pay the men. Those who are here usually get five francs every few days, about one dollar, but to-day they got ten francs as it is Xmas. That, about a shilling a day is all the English soldier gets but the Canadian earns $1.10 per day although he is only allowed to draw the same as an English soldier. All the men have pass books something like bank books and as they draw money it is entered in the books.
- 12.30 p.m. Just got in after finishing my duties as orderly officer at 9.30 p.m. I went to the mess and found only one officer there, an Englishman named Brandon who was on the same tour of duty as I in the trenches and seemingly a very friendly sort so he and I talked for a long time and when I came home I found the gate closed and the priest and his house-keeper gone to "Midnight Mass" and I could not get in so I had to go back to the mess and light a candle and wait alone till Mass was over which I learned by hearing the lady in whose house the mess is, and asking her. While waiting at the door before I decided to go back to the mess I could see the flash of the big guns several miles distant light the sky and brighten the outside walls of the church whose windows either were so thickly painted or the light inside was so dim that they barely showed that it was illuminated inside, and it seemed a strange paradox - the service celebrating the birth of Christ who came heralded by the angels who sang "Peace on earth etc." and the flash of the heavy artillery seeming to mock at the word "Peace".
I must tell you a little of the trench experiences. I left here on the 21st at 4.15 p.m., with 60 men in two motor trucks and we were driven about five miles to a place where once a town of probably 1000 people existed but it had been shelled and not a building remained intact. There we got out and walked along the road about 3/4 of a mile and then took to the trench, communication trench, and after walking about one hour in the dark arrived at our destination about 8.30 p.m. The guide said it was like "being at ’ome", and I asked him what the big holes in the ground were which I could see even in the dark. He said they were shell holes made last May.
Well I got into the dug-out where the officers sleep and the men went to theirs and after a little talk, a few shells started to come over. I had heard them called "Wizz bangs" but did not know why but now I understand. When the shell leaves the gun it has a revolving motion along its lateral axle which makes it retain in its flight the same position it had when leaving the gun on the gyroscopic idea. This motion makes them whistle as they fly though the air and they can be heard coming some seconds before they light. Of course our position was at the back of a hill in the rear trenches and the trajectory of the shells was platter[flatter?] than the hill side so it was almost impossible for then to make a direct hit on our dug-out. The explosion is made by time fuse i.e. a fuse set to burn a certain length of time fires the charge and the thing explodes usually in its flight just before it would strike the ground. The first night or evening I arrived they must have sent over fifty and we could hear then whizzing through the air but a great many, from what I am told were defective ammunition, failed to explode. They are called "duds”, and struck in the mud in the valley just behind us with a muddy thud. I saw two of them next morning. The next p.m. they shelled us again but we wore quite safe in our dug-out and when inside I did not seem to mind it.
11 a.m. Xmas Day - Will just finish this. Our program for today is a foot-ball match between two sections of our men at 11. which I am not attending. Dinner for the men at 1 p.m. which we arc all supposed to be at. Our dinner will be at 1.30 and very elaborate preparations are being made for it, after the English custom. There is a concert for the men at 6.00 at which I am to recite “The shooting of Dan McGraw”, by Robert Service. If it is a success I am going to learn other things by Kipling. Then we are to have supper at 9.30. We have tea here every day at 5.00 and dinner at 7.30 in the trenches. We dine at 8.00 p.m. tea at 5 p.m. so you see we are quite well looked after in that respect.
I saw yesterday’s Daily Mail and note peace notes from both the U.S. and Swiss Governments. We go into the trenches to-morrow for two day. Have not received any mail yet but note by the Mail that a Canadian steamer had arrived at Liverpool with both Canadian passengers a mail "en grosse"
With love and best wishes to all,